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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Interviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 2,587
1. Oculus Creative Director Saschka Unseld: “It Feels Like We’re in Film School Again”

After directing Pixar's "Blue Umbrella," Saschka Unseld has moved into the world of VR filmmaking.

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2. Oculus Debuts ‘Henry,’ An Immersive Virtual Reality Short

Interactive, immersive animation experiences are now a reality.

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3. MATT CHATS: Jeffrey Burrandt on Music in Comics with Oni Press

As a medium that requires you to listen, music doesn’t seem like it would meld with traditional comic book storytelling. That assumption, however, has been challenged by a number of writers and artists who want to share their passion for music with comics readers. One such author is Jeffrey Burrandt, who I spoke to about […]

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4. SDCC ’15: Listen to our interviews with the stars of DC and Marvel Television (and Hannibal)

For those of you who don’t know, my fellow Entertainment Editor, Hannah Lodge and I, along with Beat Contributors Harper Harris and Cal Cleary, host a mostly-weekly podcast together for our site, GeekRex (where we also write-up comic and movie reviews, along with the rare television and game piece). For the latest episode, Heidi has been […]

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5. SDCC ’15: We talk cape snaps, controversy and cons with the Batgirl of Burnside team

At SDCC '15 I talked with the Burnside Batgirl crew about their creative origins, how the look that launched a thousand cosplays came to be, how to handle creative criticism, and their earliest con experiences.

0 Comments on SDCC ’15: We talk cape snaps, controversy and cons with the Batgirl of Burnside team as of 7/24/2015 9:02:00 PM
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6. Comics Illustrator of the Week :: Eva Cabrera

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Eva Cabrera is one of the exciting new talents to come out of Mexico in recent years, along with her Boudika Comics cohort Claudia Aguirre. I stumbled upon their table of comics a few years ago at San Diego Comic-Con. Boudika Comics has a few collaborative books available now, including The House of Dreams, Daymares, and the brand new Mavi.

Eva recently dipped her toe in the big publisher pool with two variant covers for BOOM! Studios’ Adventure Time comic and Bravest Warriors. She has also worked on various other projects like Esa Visita children’s book and No Entren Al 1408 Stephen King tribute anthology.

You can follow Eva Cabrera and see the latest art on her twitter page here.

For more comics related art, you can follow me on my website comicstavern.com – Andy Yates

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7. ComiCON-versation: Talking with ReedPOP’s Lance Fensterman



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Photo courtesy of ReedPOP

Lance Fensterman might just be the busiest man in comics. As the Senior Global Vice President  of ReedPOP, he oversees a diverse portfolio of fan events spread over four continents and ten  countries, including New York Comic Con, Penny Arcade Expo,  and Star Wars Celebration.

Mr. Fensterman graciously agreed to an email interview, finding time to answer my  questions during his frequent travels around the globe. It will be structured similar to a radio interview, although a bit like talking with an astronaut on  his way to Jupiter. This interview will take multiple days weeks to complete, then formatted for readability. 

Torsten Adair: Lance, before we get to the interesting world of fan events, I’d like to know your  secret origin. What sort of childhood did you  have? What geeky passions did you have as a child, and did they help you later in your professional careers?

Lance Fensterman: Man, this is serious journalism, you are going way back.  You don’t plan to speak with my  high school guidance counselor for background, do you?  I’m not certain he would have much good to say about me…….

I was born in Fargo, which immediately explains a lot of my quirk.  More generally though I was a child of the 80’s with all the usual toy  obsessions; GI Joe, Transformers, model rockets, baseball cards, Star Wars, comics and most  of all, LEGO’s.  The first LEGO kit I really remember going nuts over was #497, the Galaxy Explorer.  I got it  for Christmas and still have it, complete with the  instructions.  Every few years I rebuild it.  I really got into comics when Todd McFarlane started  working on Spider Man and eventually did that reboot.  I  remember getting caught tearing open a corner of a Christmas  present that I hoped was the Star Wars Ewok Village – it  was.  I got much craftier about sneaking peeks at my presents after  that…….



TA: The Galaxy Explorer was an awesome set, alas, I had to settle for the Alpha-1 Rocket Base, and the Starfleet Voyager. [Yes, LEGO had that name ten years before Star Trek!] One can always tell a Christmas present is LEGO just by the unique sound the bricks make when shaken.

Since you mention Ewoks, what was your “hero’s journey” from the agricultural metropolis of Fargo to the metropolis of New York City and trade exhibitions? What’s the career path for that young fan currently dreaming of one day becoming a pop culture impresario?

LF: That my friend is a twisting path filled with plenty of adventures…….

I moved to DC for kicks when I was 18 and shortly thereafter started a couple of businesses in Ohio (don’t ask) the first being a dot com alternative news source and web marketing business and the other a restaurant.  Mind you I’d never worked in a restaurant prior to actually buying one, but how hard could it be?  I ran those business for some years before selling them and moving back to the Twin Cities where I grew up looking for the next adventure.  I saw a job running the largest independent bookstore in the state and thought it sounded like fun.  So I talked my way into running a bookstore even though I’d never worked in one before (see a theme?).  It was during that time that I got very involved with the American Booksellers Association, the trade group representing indy bookstores all over the US. From there I was recruited to move back east, to Connecticut to run a venerable indy bookstore and help the owner expand with an acquisition of another.  Someone I knew in publishing told me about a job with a company called Reed running BookExpo America, the big B2B publishing event, so I talked my way into that job running a big conventions after only attending one convention in my life (the trend continues).  Two years year later my eventual coconspirator at Reed, Greg Topalian launched New York Comic Con and asked me to come run it, we then launched the New York Anime Festival, negotiated the Star Wars Celebration deal with LucasFilm and were on the cusp of forging our deal with Penny Arcade, that was when ReedPOP was born.  Creating that brand and building it into what it has become is by far my career highlight (which is easy to say when you look back on what else I’ve done!)………



TA: “You didn’t know it couldn’t be done, so you went and did it?”

As we approach the tenth annual New York Comic Con, in retrospect, what has surprised you the most? Has the Javits Center space thwarted any of your mad plans, or presented interesting challenges? How has running NYCC contrasted with running BookExpo America in the same space?

LF: The entire event is a surprise.  It’s amazing and humbling the way the fans have embraced the show.  Because ReedPOP was a total invention and all of our shows have been total inventions, it is all fresh, surprising and exciting.  We’ve never run a ten year old comic show, so we continue to learn, create, adapt and I hope most off all listen to our fans and customers.  I think what overall surprises me are how much we’ve learned as a team and yet how much we still don’t know.  ReedPOP is comprised of an exceptional group of people that really, really care about our shows and our fans and they are constantly asking why and why not and how do we do it better…

As for the Javits, that is a long, long conversation with lots of colorful stories that I will never put in writing!  It is come a long way since I did my first event there in 2007.  It was BEA and the air conditioning wasn’t working.  I can’t tell you how many people in publishing still give me shit for that!  In the last 5 years that have truly overhauled the building in every way and with the 7 line now extending to the building and the high line terminus being right outside the building it is really starting to feel like the building is connecting to the neighborhood.



TA: Last year, the attendance hit 151,000. How many more fans can you fit inside? Will Thursday go to a full day, similar to Friday’s evolution? Are there reasons why Columbus Day remains untapped?

LF: Not to be a stickler, but I think the number was 153,000.  I don’t want to be difficult, but I bet those 2,000 people would want to be acknowledged!

The only way more people per day will come into the Javits Center is if our Super Week concept really takes off and we are able to spread events, content and happenings all of NYC.  If that happens then it might allow us to raise the daily capacity just a bit knowing people will be spread out around the city.  That said, you will see our unique number of fan number continue to rise as we convert some multi day passes to single day passes.  So if I take a 4 day pass and convert it to single days, that means 3 more fans got to buy a single day pass and come to the show.  Does that make sense?  Damn, this is starting to feel like algebra.

Will Thursday become a full day?  Where have you been?  George Clooney came on Thursday in 2014, I think that was your announcement that Thursday is a full on con day!  Columbus Day is an opportunity for sure, but at  this point, I am much more interested in establishing Super Week and making NYCC an event that happens all over NYC for a full week.  That gives so many more fans the opportunity to access so much more amazing geek content.  That’s the vision.



shcc2TA: I attended the Auto Show this year, and I realized that their large attendance and smaller crowds were due to the fact that many visitors only spent a few hours at Javits.

The Tomorrowland panel started at 1 PM (I was near the front of the line!) which is why I assumed it wasn’t a full day.

The show floor opened at Noon, not at Ten, but I won’t belabor the point. I’m sure it feels like a full day!

Let’s talk about the many other ReedPOP events happening this year.  What I find most interesting is how ReedPOP is partnering with the worldwide offices of Reed Exhibitions to stage events in foreign countries.

The first Shanghai Comic Convention was held last May. What inspired ReedPOP to stage a show in China, and were you pleased with the results?

LF:  For several years now, a huge part of my personal focus has been building ReedPOP into a global business.  That has meant finding fan communities all over the world.  A pretty cool learning for me personally has been seeing that fans are fans, no matter where in the world they reside.  There is a common thread within the geek community that is is not at all governed by geographic boundaries.

ReedPOP now has shows in Singapore, Indonesia, India, Australia, France, Vienna and indeed China.  Our first Chinese event was in Shanghai and was pretty amazing to see.  We pulled the event together in about 6 months and that included building a local ReedPOP team.  It was a pretty exceptional event and next year we will also add a show in Beijing.  Our main man in China is an awesome guy named Michael Chen and he’s really got the needs and wants of the fans at the front of his mind.  He’s massive geek himself and thus is really plugged into the Chinese geek community and that showed in the event we built in Shanghai.

I predict more global events from ReedPOP in the coming months.



comic-con-paris-23-25-octobre-2015TA: WOW! Beijing! An exclusive!

In Paris, ReedPOP is partnering with four other companies to promote a show which seems a bit unusual for French comics culture. Partner JTS is known for their hugely popular Japan Expo manga festivals, and French comics shows seem to be of the Angoulême variety: small, city-sponsored comics festivals.

Do you see a challenge staging such a show in a country with such a different “geek culture” than that of the United States? Or do you just identify the fandoms, and program guests and panels to meet that demand? (Nice guest list, so far! Miller, Palmiotti, Sfar, Bendis…) Are the local licensees familiar with ReedPOP’s type of show, and how much of a learning curve has it been for you and your U.S. staff?

LF: In Paris, it is really just ReedPOP and JTS working together.  I’ve known Jean Francois and Thomas at JTS for many, many years and really admire the business they have built.  We were looking for a while for a project to do together and this one just kind of made the most sense.  And this is no licensing arrangement, we really don’t believe it that model, this is my US ReedPOP team, working to build the event and a skilled local ReedPOP team.  Our first hire was an amazing guy name Pierre-Yves, that I’ve known for some years to head up the team.

As far as format, within Paris that “festival” style event model you refer to is really not the norm at all.  They have several really strong pop culture events that would look very familiar, format wise to what we do in the US or anywhere else in the world we have shows.

I am particularly excited about this launch, I think over the next few years this could grow to be something really, really special and significant for the fans in Paris.



Logo_ViennaComicCon_PNG HUGETA: One month after Paris, right before Thanksgiving, ReedPOP will also inaugurate Vienna Comic Con.

As I perused the convention center website, I noticed the Vienna convention center is managed by Reed Exhibitions. Is it easier to work with your corporate siblings, or do you have to be more cognizant of office diplomacy?

When bringing such a unique consumer show to sites which might not have experience either with consumer shows or fan frenzies, how do you communicate expectations to site management? Are there common misconceptions? Errors in translation? Or is American pop culture so pervasive that you find staff who “grok Spock”?

LF: The global mission for ReedPOP is to work with the local Reed Exhibitions office to help them build a ReedPOP team.  We know that having the right people that are a part of the geek community is the most critical element to building cool, credible exciting shows.  So my team works hand in hand with the local guys to build a team and build each show.  I’ve spent years now traveling the world, building a network of geeks, evangelizing within Reed about ReedPOP and now after so many years and so many flights it’s exciting to see it take hold and take off.  But yes, we have lots of moments where what ReedPOP does gets lost in translation.  We were talking with our French team about the concept of paid autographing – a segment of our shows that we are not crazy about but there is a segment of fandom that wants it and likes it, so we create the experience for them.  This is so foreign (pardon the pun) to our partners around the world running traditional businesses.  They thought of it as walking up to someone on the street and asking for an autograph and then charging them, not an organized piece of content at the show that includes photo ops and meet and greets.  Trying to explain it was so strange.



TA: It’s that time of year when people wonder about the San Diego Comic-Con moving elsewhere for more space. They’re staying put until 2018, and this year seemed to generate less grumbling among attendees.

ReedPOP hosts the lesser-known (to pop-culture geeks) UFC Fan Expo at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas, as well as the Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention at the Marina Bay Sands casino resort. What are the challenges of staging a fan event in Vegas? What lessons can be learned from other big events in Vegas, such as the Electric Daisy Carnival which draws 135,000 music fans per day in June?

LF: It’s a paradigm in that traditional trade shows (business to business) always perform better in Vegas.  Because, look, if your company is making you go to some tradeshow, who wouldn’t want to have a few days in Vegas, right?  However, shows like those that ReedPOP run are based on people wanting to go, not having to go, so not having a large native population to draw off of can make it challenging.  For super established shows though that problem can be overcome and what an awesome place to run a show, right?  The lesson is you’ve got to truly make it a destination…..I think it would be a blast to build a show there some time…….



TA: … and finally, what advice do you have for that entrepreneurial fan in Middle America who gets a crazy idea to hold a local fan fest? What advice do you have for her? What mistakes should neophyte organizers avoid, and if you could be the King of Conventions for a day, what edict would you proclaim for all festivals to follow?

LF: Build the kind of show they would love to attend.  Reach but don’t overreach.  Don’t put yourself in financial peril or over promise to your fans.  Remember, these events are supposed to be fun and the more fun they have the more fun fans will have.  This community is about passion and when you have passion about what you are building, it will come through in a genuine and real way.  I’m thinking of a guy like Jim Demonakos, who built Emerald City Comic Con into an amazing show based almost solely on his name, his passion, his credibility.  And then hey, maybe ReedPOP will want to acquire or partner the event some day!



1 Comments on ComiCON-versation: Talking with ReedPOP’s Lance Fensterman, last added: 7/22/2015
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8. Interview: Marcus Muller Crowns Himself “King of the Unknown”

Marcus Muller is a comic creator and freelance artist who has worked with DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and Locust Moon Press. He’s also has worked as a concept artist for the video game industry. His latest venture is King of the Unknown, an exciting and interesting webcomic that features a fat Elvis. Currently Marcus is in the process of putting together the first graphic novel for King of the Unknown, which should be out in 2016. Marcus wears many hats on this project and works as its writer, illustrator, colorer and letterer.

The webcomic is on hiatus as Muller works on the graphic novel, getting it ready for print.  The graphic novel will be around 120 pages and Marcus still has plans to keep the webcomic going, telling shorter King of the Unknown stories. Marcus loves digital comics, but he grew up on print versions and is excited to see his series in hard copy for the first time. Marcus has been hitting all the comic cons and promoting his work. He took time from his busy schedule to talk to Comics Beat and let us know what is up.


Seth Ferranti: What is King of the Unknown about?

Marcus Muller: The short of it is that after a supernatural mishap that transforms him, fat Elvis fakes his death to become the premiere paranormal investigator for a secret government agency.  Tonally, I’ve heard people describe it as a cross between the X-Files and the Venture Bros, which I guess is a pretty fair assessment of it.  I try to have a good balance between, horror, comedy, the paranormal, and action in the comic.  I’ve always had a fascination with the paranormal and occult, so I use this comic as a vehicle to combine a lot of my interests (music, the supernatural, geeky stuff, bad conspiracy theories, etc.).  If I’m going to spend this much time on something, then I want it to be something I would be interested in reading myself, so I basically put everything into it that would make it my dream comic to work on.

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Ferranti: What role did you play in King of the Unknown‘s creation?

Muller: On King of the Unknown, other than having my buddy Andrew Carl edit the comic, and my brother help out coloring a few of the early pages, it’s all me on the comic.  I am the creator, writer, illustrator, colorist, and letterer on it.  It’s not the fastest way to do things, but it is the most affordable for me, and I have this OCD about having to do all of that stuff haha

The actual creation of the comic dates back to 2007 when my friends Amado Rodriguez and Bud Burgy were putting together an anthology focusing on mid-western creators called Muscles & Fights and asked me to contribute a story for it.  So it was in Muscles & Fights volume 2 that King of the Unknown made its debut when King fought a Skunkape in a trailer park down south. From those humble beginnings he would then appear in the third volume of Muscles & Fights before I started the webcomic in 2011.

It was those short stories in M&F though that were the genesis for the full comic, as before I even finished the first M&F comic, I had quickly developed a whole back-story and world for the King and his adventures with the unknown.  It’s at the point where I now have the whole series planned out from beginning to end in my notebooks here.

Ferranti: How long have you been working in comics and on what projects have you worked on?

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Muller: Professionally (meaning getting a paycheck for it), I’ve been working in comics since around 2006-2007.  I think it was around that time that I got some work from DC Comics Creative Services Department penciling a few comics. Since then I’ve had work published by Dark Horse Comics and Locust Moon Press on such books as Once Upon a Time Machine, and the recent Eisner nominated Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream.  I’ve also done some concept artwork for video games at High Voltage Studios.

Doing freelance art for a living I pick up a lot of odd jobs, so I’m kind of all over the place taking whatever I can get to make a buck off my art.  It ain’t easy and sleep becomes my enemy, while coffee and music become my best friends that get me through a work day.  I would love to one day make a living off of just my creator owned work, as that’s what my heart is into doing and where I feel like I have the most to offer.

Ferranti: When is the King of the Unknown graphic novel coming out?

Muller: The plan is for the first 120 page OGN to be out in 2016 with the next follow-up graphic novel the year after that.  I grew up on print comics, so that’s my preferred format for the comic, but I still plan on doing something with the website, which I’ll probably use to tell short KotU stories.  The website was doing fairly well until it went on hiatus, so I’d like to bring that back on a regular basis in some form.

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Ferranti: What comic cons have you been to recently? How do you promote your work there and how do you like the con scene?

Muller: Admittedly, self promotion and conventions aren’t my strong suit since I’d rather be chained to a table working on art with music blaring, but I tabled at C2E2 this past April where I pushed a lot of King of the Unknown merchandise, and there was a strong response to the material.  Besides KotU prints, I had a preview comic for King of the Unknown there, and of the 40 copies I brought with, I sold out of nearly all of them, and ending up going home with only about 5 copies left after the convention.  I was told by a lot of people that prints sell really well at the convention, but that wasn’t the case for me, as everyone wanted that comic.  That’s something that I was happy to see, as you’re always hearing stories that no one goes to comic conventions anymore to actually get comics.

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Also, if people reacted like that to just the short preview comic, then I can’t wait to get the full graphic novel out there and see what the response is, and get KotU out there on a larger scale.  I’m really excited about this comic, and can’t wait to get it out there in all of its full weirdness for people to see!

Ferranti: What is next for you?

Muller: Right now I’m finishing up a few side projects before I dive full tilt into the King of the Unknown OGN.  The KotU graphic novel is going to be my main project for a while, and we’ll see how that goes.  I’ll be expanding my convention presence to promote that as well, so if you find me at a convention you’ll be able to see a preview of the book there, as well as pick up some limited edition King of the Unknown merchandise.  For some non-KotU related things coming up that you can check out my work on in the immediate future, I have a Street Fighter piece in the Udon Capcom Fighting Tribute book that debuts at the San Diego Comic Con, and I’ll be doing the cover on the next Scary School book.  Like I mentioned, I’m kind of all over the place with my work, so check in and follow me on your favorite social media to see the latest project I’m working on.

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Connect with Marcus Muller on social media and check out King of the Unknown!

www.kingoftheunknown.com

www.facebook.com/KingoftheUnknown

https://twitter.com/King_of_Unknown

http://m2comics.tumblr.com/

https://instagram.com/m2comics/

www.facebook.com/m2cartoonist

1 Comments on Interview: Marcus Muller Crowns Himself “King of the Unknown”, last added: 7/22/2015
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9. MATT CHATS: Dan Berry on Podcasts, Patreon and Handmade Art

I first learned about Dan Berry due to my insatiable hunger for comics podcasts. Make It Then Tell Everybody consists of intelligent and insightful conversations with comic creators you may or may not be familiar with, each a great lesson in art, storytelling and the process of making sequential art. From Make It Then Tell Everybody, I branched out to Berry’s comics. I was impressed by the stories that felt iconic and the watercolors that showed the benefits of creating art by hand in the digital age.

Read my conversation with Dan Berry about the man’s art, podcast, Patreon and much more.

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What prompted Make It Then Tell Everybody?

In 2012 a British artist asked me to host some panel discussions at a festival. I said yes and we did two panels discussions and they went really well. Someone said, “Oh, you should podcast these!” I took his advice and in the weeks following decided to carry on.

Has it had a noticeable effect on your career?

Oh, yeah. Way more people know who I am [laughs].

What do you think of the Patreon model. Do you find it viable?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s been essential to what I’m doing. I talked about doing a Kickstarter on the podcast, which I guess is a really good model for a book, but for these enduring projects I need that slightly slower burning funding model.

I love the way you have different tiers offering the same thing. I found that really clever.

[Laughs] Well I’m basically giving it away for free. No one really gets anything. It’s really about this idea of altruism. It’s people’s own good will that I’m spending here.

2015-07-01 01.06.11

What are your general thoughts on digital art, both in terms of your own work and the work of others?

What do you mean by digital art?

Anything done on a computer. Something done on a Cintiq, for example.

Oh, I find it great. It’s absolutely great. I don’t have any problems with digital art. My background is nearly entirely digital I only came to working with ink on paper much later on. I like working traditionally because I feel I can do it faster.

I think this is a psychological thing for me rather than anything to do with the technology but I find when I’m working digitally and have the infinite safety net of the undo button I’m going to keep using it over and over again. I think my style has developed not from avoiding my mistakes but embracing them and making them part of the style. I have a very loose what I hope is a spontaneous and expressive style and I can’t get that same level of spontaneity [digitally] because I know there’s a safety net there. Whereas with traditional media forces you but also embrace them.

I don’t think there’s any artist I can think of who would lose more from working digitally than you. Your work is so natural. Do you think you could achieve anywhere near the same effect on a computer? Especially the watercolors?

Oh not the watercolors. I’ve tried a bunch of different watercolor brushes for Photoshop and it’s not the same. At all. I haven’t found anything that vaguely approximates what you do with watercolor. There’s an element of chaos that you can’t really control and I really like that. You don’t get that chaos from a computer.

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You don’t sell your comics digitally, do you?

I do a couple of PDF downloads and I think there’s stuff on ComiXology.

Oh, you do. I didn’t see any when I looked.

It was with a British publisher named Great Beast. My book Carry Me was with them and they had it on ComiXology and they recently folded shop so I think it might have gone down now.

Are you planning on putting it back up?

Yeah. I’m trying to figure out what to do with that at the moment because it’s reaching the end of its print run. It sold really well and the digital stuff seemed to pick up pretty well. I had a lot of excellent response from the ComiXology stuff. I might reissue it under my own name I might collect a bunch of things as an anthology I haven’t really decided yet.

How long is it?

24 pages, I think?

You said you’re going to work on a longer project in the near future?

Yes, I am.

2015-07-01 01.06.54

Is that an adjustment, after working on so many shorter ones?

Not really. It all feels pretty much the same at this point. My schedule doesn’t change depending on how long the project is because I don’t really take breaks between projects. So I’m just basically always working so I don’t see any difference.

You don’t get impatient?

No. I used to. I used to want it to be finished and it to be done but I think as I get older patience is one of the things I’ve managed to develop. I think patience and being able to sit down for 4 hours at a time and do one thing.

I have one final question, the one everybody hates to be asked on Make it Then Tell Everybody: where do you get your ideas from?

All over the place [laughs]. Basically I like to fill my head up with as much stuff as possible. I like to listen to nonfiction and fiction books, audiobooks in the car, I’ll read articles, I’ll talk to people I’ll try to experience as much stuff in my head because I know that the more stuff I have in my head the more ideas I’m likely to have and once I’ve had an idea I have to capture it. If I don’t capture it dribbles out my nose while I sleep and its gone forever. So it’s not so much having ideas or where they come from I think it’s taking the beginning of an idea and turning it into something that’s the difficult part. Having ideas is relatively straightforward relatively easy I don’t have any problems with that it’s finding the time to do something with it or actually doing something with it.

2015-07-01 01.06.43

Follow Dan on Twitter and Tumblr and read his comics, listen to his podcast and consume anything else he puts up for consumption.

0 Comments on MATT CHATS: Dan Berry on Podcasts, Patreon and Handmade Art as of 7/21/2015 4:38:00 PM
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10. Interview and Giveaway: The Bride Wore Denim by Lizbeth Selvig

This morning Lizbeth Selvig dropped by to answer a few questions in celebration of the release of The Bride Wore Denim.  Check it out!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Lizbeth Selvig] Friendly, Empathetic, Superchatty, Extraverted, Loyal

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Lizbeth Selvig] I never leave home without a notebook and at least five pens in my purse. I don’t know why the pens except that I’m kind of a pen/pencil slut—I love them. Plus, you never know when someone might need one! My notebook is my safety net for ideas or observations since I won’t remember things I think of without writing them down. It’s also right there if I’m somewhere boring and I find I have few minutes to write!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Lizbeth Selvig] An Einstein bobblehead doll. A 30-minute hourglass timer. The business card my son-in-law gave me for a potential contact at our local VA Hospital. I need to call her for research on my current book.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline?

[Lizbeth Selvig] Graham crackers and milk. It’s been my go-to comfort snack since I was little! (I figured chocolate kind of went without saying.)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Lizbeth Selvig] I would trade places with my dad. He’s 86 and suffers from dementia. He knows his family members and is aware of his surroundings, but he can’t speak except to answer yes or no, and he is losing control of many basic body functions. I’d like to know exactly what he’s thinking so I could communicate better with him and say the things that would make him know he’s still loved and respected. The things that would make his last years truly happy.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week.  Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?

[Lizbeth Selvig] I have always wanted the power to teleport invisibly. I would use it to 1) get my life totally back on track schedule-wise by adding hours to my weeks by not having to waste time driving, and 2) spy on all the parties during important summit meetings and feed crucial information to the appropriate people—thus potentially saving the world. LOL.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Lizbeth Selvig] I have become a huge fan of audio books! I drive a fair amount and I help out two mornings a week in my daughter’s barn so I have lots of time to listen. I try to “read” the mainstream (non-romance) books I know I’ll never have time to pick up. My last few have been very interesting. “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr just won a Pulitzer prize and it’s a wonderful, slightly different take on WWII. “Anansi Boys” by Neil Gaiman is one of my favorites by him so far. “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd was super eye-opening, especially in light of the racial issues we’ve been seeing in the news lately. And “The Shell Collector” by Hugh Howey was fascinating—a sci fi/futuristic setting with a plot that read like a romance. Really a fun read!

The Bride Wore Denim
Seven Brides for Seven Cowboys # 1

By: Lizbeth Selvig

Releasing July 21, 2015

Avon Impulse

Blurb

When Harper Lee Crockett returns home to Paradise Ranch, Wyoming, the last thing she expects is to fall head-over-heels in lust for Cole, childhood neighbor and her older sister’s long-time boyfriend. The spirited and artistic Crockett sister has finally learned to resist her craziest impulses, but this latest trip home and Cole’s rough-and-tough appeal might be too much for her fading self-control.

Cole Wainwright has long been fascinated by the sister who’s always stood out from the crowd. His relationship with Amelia, the eldest Crockett sister, isn’t as perfect as it seems, and with Harper back in town, he sees everything he’s been missing. Cole knows they have no future together—he’s tied to the land and she’s created a successful life in the big city—but neither of them can escape their growing attraction or inconvenient feelings.

As Harper struggles to come to grips with new family responsibilities and her forbidden feelings for Cole, she must decide whether to listen to her head or to give her heart what it wants.

Link to Follow Tour: http://www.tastybooktours.com/2015/06/the-bride-wore-denim-seven-brides-for.html

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24331549-the-bride-wore-denim?from_search=true&search_version=service_impr
Goodreads Series Link:
https://www.goodreads.com/series/147787-seven-brides-for-seven-cowboys

Buy Links: Amazon | B & N | iTunes | Kobo

Author Info/Links

Lizbeth Selvig writes fun, heartwarming contemporary romantic fiction for Avon books. Her debut novel, The Rancher and the Rock Star, was released in 2012. Her second, Rescued By A Stranger is a 2014 RWA RITA® Award nominee. Liz lives in Minnesota with her best friend (aka her husband), a hyperactive border collie named Magic and a gray Arabian gelding named Jedi. After working as a newspaper journalist and magazine editor, and raising an equine veterinarian daughter and a talented musician son, Lizbeth entered Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® contest in 2010 with The Rancher and the Rock Star (then titled Songbird) and won the Single Title Contemporary category.

In her spare time, she loves being a brand new grandma to Evelyn Grace as well as to hike, quilt, read, horseback ride, and play with her four-legged grandchildren, of which there are nearly twenty, including a wallaby, an alpaca, a donkey, a pig, a sugar glider, and many dogs, cats and horses (pics of all appear on her website www.lizbethselvig.com). She loves connecting with readers—contact her any time!

Website | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads


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11. SDCC ’15 Interview: Alex Segura and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa Tell us all About Riverdale TV Series, Dark Circle Comics, and the Future of Archie

By Harper W. Harris

Archie fans certainly had a good time at SDCC this year: not only did the publisher talk about a new series in the Archie Horror line and tease us with the future of the Dark Circle line and the New Riverdale series of titles, but announced that the Riverdale TV series has been picked up by the CW. I had the chance to speak with Alex Segura, SVP of publicity and marketing and editor of the Dark Circle line, as well as Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, CCO and writer of Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to talk about the slew of exciting news that came from Archie Comics over the course of the weekend.
Harper W. Harris: I wanted to talk with Alex first a bit about Dark Circle Comics. First of all, in general, how do you plan to tell new and exciting superhero stories under the Dark Circle imprint–how do you want them to stand out among all the other superhero books?

Alex Segura: I think the key for us is just to be different and good. I really strongly believe that quality rises to the top. You can put as much dressing on something as you want, but if the story or art isn’t good it doesn’t matter. I talked about this on the Dark Circle panel, but finding voices that maybe are familiar to the tropes of comics, but aren’t beholden to them. They can bring in a different perspective–people like Chuck Wendig, Adam Christopher, and Duane Swierczynski. They know comics but they know other media like TV, novels, and movies. So they come at it from a different perspective. We’re building Dark Circle more as a network. Each book is its own little show, and maybe down the line they’ll interact with each other, but fans don’t have that same kind of company pressure where you have checklists of 20 books you have to get to understand one event. We don’t do events, we do stories.

HH: What can you tell us about the pretty newly announced series, The Web?   

The Web Promo, art by Szymon Kudranski

The Web Promo, art by Szymon Kudranski

AS: The Web is Jane Raymond, she’s a 14 year old Korean American girl who is super into cosplay, and she’s a teenager. She’s one of these characters that once I read that first script, she feels like a teenager. She’s dealt with tragedy, her mother’s just passed away, and she’s stumbling upon being a superhero, which is insane. It really shows you what happens when a teenager gains enhanced abilities and has to face real problems like street gangs, violence, and teenage life. I mean, I can’t imagine being a teenager now–I remember how stressful it was being a teenager maybe 20 years ago. It’s really Dave White, who is the writer, who’s done a great job of trying to be true to the character and also a nod to the history but not weighing it down with continuity.

HH: The other thing that’s really cool about the Dark Circle line is how incredibly diverse it is. You’ve got action spy thriller to more wacky adventure to super dark crime, and horror–what do you think are the advantages of having such a diverse line while still being within the superhero genre overall?

AS: First of all, thank you for saying that. That’s really a testament to this gentleman [points to Aguirre-Sacasa] with the Archie Horror stuff. That really kicked the door down with Afterlife and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. All I have is my taste and my gut, and talking to Jon [Goldwater] and Roberto and Mike [Pellerito], and Jesse Goldwater. If it’s good, does it take up a new space in the line, and we really want to present fans with a variety and a seal of quality. To me, if you see the Dark Circle logo, it’s a company logo: it tells you that this is good. Whereas I think in other places, it just means you have a lot, or it means something else. I want people not to necessarily feel compelled to buy it because they’re completing a collection, but feel compelled to buy it because they want to read it.

HH: So shifting gears here a bit, I definitely have to talk about the Riverdale TV series that was announced as coming to CW yesterday. Roberto, what can you tell us about the tone or look of the show? I know earlier you’ve talked about it having a surreal tone–has that changed now that it’s on the CW?

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: I think when we ended up pitching it, the very high concept pitch was that it was a teen version of Twin Peaks. And by that, it was sort of like how in Twin Peaks the whole story is kicked off by the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer. So imagine you’re telling that story, but instead of following the grown-ups of Twin Peaks, you’re following all of Laura Palmer’s classmates. That kind of story is kind of used to uncover all the secrets–that makes it sound like a really, really dark show, and though there are undercurrents of that and weirdness, it’s still Archie, there’s still a love triangle. Josie and the Pussycats are in it, there’s a lot of music in it. So it’s kind of a mix of light and dark, serious and funnier stuff–kind of like life. Coming of age is on some level is kind of a loss of innocence, so that’s a big theme. It’s kind of a hodge-podge of all that stuff.

Riverdale TV Series, art by Veronica Fish

Riverdale TV Series, art by Veronica Fish

HH: What other kind of TV shows and movies did you take inspiration from when writing the pilot?

RA: We talked a lot about it feeling like a John Hughes movie. Also movies like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Spectacular Now, The Way Way Back; those are movies that are all touchstones in terms of tone. The core will always be the love triangle and the characters, so as long as their essences remain. We’ve also talked about Dawson’s Creek as being an inspiration, which Greg Berlanti, who’s the producer on this, worked on. We talked about Everwood, which is about a family in a small town. So all those different kind of influences just kind of all have been absorbed and trickled down into the show.

HH: I believe it was on the Reddit AMA that you mentioned that you hoped to do a Halloween special every year that is a little bit like Afterlife with Archie–is that still something you’re trying to do?

RA: Yes, absolutely! That’d be great. Every Halloween there’d be a Halloween episode. Kind of like on Roseanne how they did a Halloween episode every year, or Treehouse of Horror.

Afterlife with Archie #10

Afterlife with Archie #10

HH: So let’s talk about Afterlife with Archie a bit. Did you guys always plan on expanding that book to encompass more than just zombies? What other kind of monsters or horror ideas do you see coming up in the future for the book?

RA: You know, I think originally we did think it was just going to be a zombie book, but then as it went on it very quickly started encroaching on other horror genres, and now the sky’s the limit. The one thing we probably won’t do in Afterlife, because we have Sabrina, is witches. Even though Sabrina and her aunts have small parts in Afterlife, that’s the one thing we probably won’t dive into. Otherwise everything else is kind of on the table horror-wise. There’s still a lot characters in the Archie library that we haven’t yet met in Afterlife that we will be meeting.

HH: The storytelling in that book is really phenomenal. What’s the process like scripting and working with Francesco Francavilla?

RA: We talk about every issue in advance and kind of check in to make sure that this is an area that Francesco’s interested in drawing. Then I do full scripts–and they are full scripts. I usually give probably more art direction than Francesco wants, although obviously he’s a genius and if he changes around the layout of a page, then I’ll adjust based on that. It’s pretty traditional in terms of having a full script and Francesco doing his thing, and if something changes, it’s always better.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #5

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #5

HH: Let’s talk about Chilling Adventures of Sabrina for a minute. How did you decide to make that a separate world from Afterlife, and what kind of research went into making that new world that takes place much farther in the past?

RA: You know, I’m not sure exactly what led into that. I know we wanted to do a book that wasn’t super tied to Afterlife, because it felt like if we were doing that story, let’s just put it in Afterlife. And I had wanted to do a period book for a while. So many of the movies and books that are an inspiration for Sabrina like Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist or The Omen, they all are all obviously retro now. It felt like this would be a slower burn and be a bit more psychological, so I thought maybe if set it in the ‘60s, maybe people won’t think it’s in the same universe of Afterlife. It’s a little weird that there’s a Sabrina in Afterlife and a different Sabrina who’s in Chilling Adventures.

HH: We’re used to that, we’re in comics, right?

RA: Exactly. Robert Hack, who draws, colors, and inks the book, he loves all the retro stuff. He has a huge library of visual references, much more so than I. I’ll say stuff like, they go to the movies and there are movie posters for movies that would be playing then, and he always fills in that stuff himself. He’s got a really good sense of that.

HH: There was another book announced in the Archie Horror line at the panel yesterday, right?

RA: Who is Vampironica, yes.

HH: What can you tell us about that?

RA: Not much. I can tell you that maybe two years ago maybe Dan Parent did two issues of Betty and Veronica that introduced this concept of Betty the vampire slayer and Vampironica. I was talking to Francesco, and he’s like, “I love vampires, I love pretty girls, I love Veronica.” We just started talking about it, and he got an idea about it. That’s all I can say about it. More news to come!

Who is Vampironica? (art by Francesco Francavilla)

Who is Vampironica? (art by Francesco Francavilla)

HH: So one of the grand traditions of Archie Comics are the wacky crossovers you’ve done in the past–Archie Meets Punisher, Archie Meets Kiss, Archie vs. Predator, and the recently announced Archie vs. Sharknado. Being that you two guys are running these two separate lines of horror and crime or more mature themes, are there any plans to cross those two universes, or cross books within those universes?

AS: You know, we haven’t had the formal discussion, but like Jon Goldwater always says, everything’s on the table if it’s a good idea. We’re getting Dark Circle off the ground, Archie Horror is rolling…so maybe someday.

RA: A lot of people have pitched a lot of crazy crossover ideas, but no one yet has pitched a Dark Circle/Archie Horror crossover.

AS: And we’re doing our first horror book at Dark Circle with The Hangman, so there’s definitely room to play there.

RA: And, not to tease anything, but don’t we have a big crossover…

Archie Meets the Ramones, art by Gisele Lagace

Archie Meets the Ramones, art by Gisele Lagace

AS: Yeah, we’re announcing a big crossover tonight–we’re announcing Archie Meets Ramones. I’ll be cowriting that with Matt Rosenberg, with art by Giselle [Lagace], who’s done stuff like Occupy Riverdale and her own cool comics. She’s a huge Ramones fan.

HH: So is that kind of a follow up to Archie Meets KISS?

AS: You know, Jesse Goldwater said, you’re kind of captaining the Archie music sub-universe, so there will be little nods that the fans that have read both will get. But it’ll be a fun standalone Rock’n’Roll High School kind of thing.

HH: Awesome! Last thing: what do you guys love about working for Archie? There’s so much to love–it’s a comic publisher that’s grown massively in the last couple of years.

RA: I love that risk-taking and being creative is rewarded. I don’t just wear this [points to his Jughead sweater] at Comic Con, I wear this everyday. I love people’s passion for the characters. That’s my favorite thing: when I say, oh, I do this for Archie, their eyes immediately light up because they have so many associations with these characters. To be at a place where I can work with them and take risks with them is just great.

AS: For me, I’ve worked on a bunch of major brands, and Archie is right up there with the likes of them, because everyone knows Archie. You know, you tell someone you work at Archie and their eyes light up because everyone has an Archie story. And my first comic was an Betty and Veronica Double Digest with a great Dan DeCarlo cover of them dancing. I remember the first time I read a Cheryl Blossom story. I love the characters, I think Jon is a great boss in terms of taking risks, being creative, and not being afraid. We’ll always try the new thing if it makes sense, and we’ll just keep rolling, I think it’s great.

3 Comments on SDCC ’15 Interview: Alex Segura and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa Tell us all About Riverdale TV Series, Dark Circle Comics, and the Future of Archie, last added: 7/19/2015
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12. SDCC ’15 Interview: Brenden Fletcher Gets in Depth about Miyazaki, Music, and Continuity in his Books

Black Canary #2 (on sale 7/15)

Black Canary #2 (on sale 7/15)

By Harper W. Harris

The Fletcher-Verse: this is what superfans like to call the little corner of the DC Universe that’s penned (or co-penned) by Brenden Fletcher, including Batgirl, Gotham Academy, and the new Black Canary series. I got a chance to sit down with Brenden to discuss his inspirations, approach, and general disregard for continuity in Gotham Academy and Black Canary.

 

Gotham Academy #8 (on sale now)

Gotham Academy #8 (on sale now)

Harper W. Harris: I’ve heard that Miyazaki is a big influence on what you’re doing with Gotham Academy. What parts or aspects of those movies did you want to bring into Gotham Academy and the tone?

Brenden Fletcher: I wouldn’t say that my love of Miyazaki is something that I’m trying to put on the page of Gotham Academy, or of any of my books. But discovering Miyazaki at a young age and his Studio Ghibli films really transformed my view of what it meant to tell a story, and how to approach character and drama. I think that’s what I’m trying to bring to all of this, I’m just trying to be mindful of his approach. These books are completely different from anything he’s done. So I’m hoping that when people are examining what we’re doing with that in mind, they’re not trying to look for specific elements or anything. I will say this however: I believe that what we have in common more than anything is the fact that we seem to be drawn to tell stories about female protagonists. If you look at most of Miyazaki films…[A saxophone plays in the distance] I’m sorry, that’s “Careless Whisper” on the saxophone being played at San Diego Comic Con. You don’t expect Wham on a Friday morning.

HH: No, it’s a little early for that!

BF: But yeah, I think I haven’t really figured out why it is I’m drawn to telling stories with female protagonists, but this has always been the case. Since I started writing, every story that I’ve felt connected to has had a female protagonist. I don’t do it on purpose, it’s just what interests me.

HH: So switching over to Black Canary for a second, that obviously draws from a very different creative pool than Gotham Academy, one that you have some personal experience with. How does your experience as a rock musician inform the way you write that book and formed that character?

BF: Yeah I’ve been playing music all my life. I’m primarily a singer; I went to school for music, studied voice and classical singing. I ended up doing musical theater for years, and on the side I was always playing in bands. At one point in my life I decided I didn’t like the formal aspect so much, so I wanted to get out of classical. I wasn’t really into the musical theater scene; I liked the jobs, but it wasn’t really me. So I spent more time writing music and playing music, and working on being a better instrumentalist and that turned into some touring and getting involved in the business of music. This was never something that I could make a living out of, I didn’t become a world famous musician, but I experienced enough of the life to inform this new world I’m building for Dinah Lance in the new Black Canary book.

HH: With Gotham Academy you’re co-writing with Becky Cloonan. With co-writing, I’m always curious about the process–what is the process like writing with Becky?

BF: It’s interesting: I think we could talk about it in terms of how Becky and I work, but this is a full team effort and Karl [Kerschl] is in on the story building at every phase of the project. We start usually by going out for a coffee–I’ve got some ideas, Becky’s got some ideas, Karl’s got some ideas. We turn that into a look at where the story should be going, and at that point Becky and I create a breakdown of the issue, what the twenty pages will roughly look like. We give that to Karl, he tells us we’re wrong and we have to back and retool it until he’s happy with it. From there we give it to the editors who sometimes tell us we’re wrong. Eventually we get to scripting, and that’s another stage where Karl will fix things or tell us things are wrong–or sometimes he just doesn’t, and I’m not even kidding you, he’ll just change things on the page, just draw where he thinks it should go, and 100% of the time he’s right. Karl is an extremely gifted storyteller, great writer, an Eisner award winning writer/artist. What we have is this incredible merging of visions–actually I think we share a vision, but we merge our talents and abilities and our individual ideas to become this wonderful thing that’s Gotham Academy.

Gotham Academy #9 (on sale 8/12)

Gotham Academy #9 (on sale 8/12)

HH: It sounds like Gotham Academy is a really collaborative effort, that’s great. So when you’re writing a script for different artists, so for example writing for Annie Wu on Black Canary, how is your scripting style different?

BF: Totally different. The only reason I’m writing full scripts for Gotham Academy is because I’m collaborating with Becky and because the office requires it–they like to see a full script. With Karl, we can pretty much get on the phone and say, yeah, page twenty looks like this, and he’ll deliver it and it’ll be perfect. Annie and I had a talk early on about how she likes to approach things, and she had been working with Matt Fraction on Hawkeye for a while and wanted a script that was closer to what Matt was doing. So this is the first time that I’ve written closer to what is known as the Marvel Style. Annie wants a looser breakdown of what the pages looks like with some script beats in there. She can push and pull those things as she wants, she adds beats, moves beats, but ultimately the core of the story I’m trying to get across, the core of the movement of the characters is all there on the page.

HH: When you first started out with Black Canary, were you able to pick and choose what aspects of her past you wanted to use? Given that it’s not your average superhero story, have you found it challenging to tell the story you want to tell within the confines of continuity?

BF: I have a relatively clean approach to continuity, which is just that I ignore everything that I don’t like. I will never contradict it to the best of my ability, but if something feels off to me I’ll try my best to avoid it. I am playing into a lot of the New 52 continuity for Dinah Lance, but using it for very specific reasons which you’ll see over this first arc. I’m trying to bring it all together and make it make sense in a way that makes Dinah feel like the iconic version of the character that we know and love.

HH: She’s a welcome member to the ever-growing Fletcher-verse!

 

Black Canary #1 and Gotham Academy #8 are on shelves now, with new issues coming in the next few weeks!

0 Comments on SDCC ’15 Interview: Brenden Fletcher Gets in Depth about Miyazaki, Music, and Continuity in his Books as of 7/17/2015 2:22:00 PM
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13. SDCC ’15 Interview: Mariko Tamaki talks about “This One Summer”

Mariko Tamaki

Mariko Tamaki

By Nick Eskey

Mariko Tamaki is a Canadian born artist of mixed Japanese and Jewish descent. In school she studied literature and writing, later on publishing the book “Cover Me,” as well as graphic novels “Skim” and “Emiko Superstar.”  Her recent work is another graphic novel entitled “This One Summer.” Jillian Tamaki, Mariko’s cousin, did the illustrations for both this novel and for “Skim.”

“This One Summer” gives a glimpse into the life of two young girls as they spend one summer at a cottage by the beach. We get to see them learn and experience new things, as well as see the contrast between lives of adults and kids. During this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, I got to sit down and talk about this book with writer Mariko Tamaki. Unfortunately, Jillian could not attend.

The First Second booth at San Diego Comic-Con 2015

The First Second booth at San Diego Comic-Con 2015

How long have you been doing comics?

The first comic I did was with Jillian. It was a mini-comic called “Skim.” I believe it was the early summer of 2008 I did the first mini-comic for a literary magazine in Canada called “Kiss Machine.” So… this woman, Emily Pulari, commissioned these mini-comics from women who never really had a lot of experience with comics. So we did a mini-comic through that. It’s kind of like a “test case.” Kind of like a low pressure to try something out. So we did the mini-comic of “Skim,” and that got purchased by “Groundwood Books.” And that was our first graphic novel together. That was my first work in comics.

ThisOneSummer2Did you ever think you’d get into comics?

I had no aspirations to work in comics. But I always really liked working on collaborations. I’ve actually done a lot of theatre, and I’ve done a lot of performance art, which for me was like a more accessible version of theatre. So I’ve done a lot of actors work, and a lot of work in sort of feminist collectives and stuff. I was really into the idea of working with another artist than I was in comics per say. But I would say now that I’ve done comics, I think that they’re just an incredible medium for telling stories. The way that stories get told in my experience in comics is that it opens opportunities to tell [them] in so many different angles.

What were some of your ideas for writing this story?

I grew up in Northern Ontario, Canada. And every summer, you went to the cottage. So it was this like solid, integral part of my childhood… When it comes to comics, especially with this one, I thought of the atmosphere. I felt the background would be a good setting for a story. And I’m also kind of obsessed with transitional moments. So for me, the idea of being these young girls, and having this chunk of their lives, and analyzing that part, and all the sort of changes that would happen, even if [those changes] were all going to be during this one summer of their lives… it was something I wanted to show.

Would you say this mirrors any of your life?

Well I use to go to the cottage, but I didn’t have any of those challenges. I used some things as a beginning point, and created something fictional from that. Obviously I was a young girl at the cottage, and I had the fat young friend there too, but the characters are not really that connected to my life. The experiences that they have are not my experiences, aside from the fact that I also did go to Saint Joseph in Huron, which is the park that they go to in the book. Actually, Jillian and I as part of our research (that’s what we call it, “research”), went to Saint Joseph in Huron, went to the cottage, and spent a week in Nova Scotia which is I think one of the best places to write a book.

I think the dialogue is very down to Earth, and very easy to relate to. Is there anything that was hard for you to talk about?

During the initial draft, it was sort of a struggle to write the character of the mother because it’s hard to write somebody who’s not talking about what’s bothering them. And I think that’s so much of what Jillian brought to that character in terms of the details. Even the t-shirts that the mom wears have all these details that kind of build up that character. And we sort of went back and re-edited [her] a lot, because who wants to read about this upset mom who’s just having a bad day? I think that’s like the archetype of the “pissed-off-mom” from like ancient times on. And we wanted to see the layers of that experience. That was a really challenging thing to write, and it ended up being one of the more intriguing stuff. For whatever reason, the writing for Wendy and Rose was for me kind of easy. Their banter was just fun and easy, and it’s hard to write for someone that’s just not pleasant… it’s hard to lovingly write that.

ThisOneSummer1

The kids seemed to be able to live in the moment, where the older characters were concerned with other things. How was it to show that dynamic of the two?

My archetype for stuff like that has always been the “Roseanne” show. It’s about the kids, and it’s about the adults. And the problems of the kids are not entirely linked to the adults, but their completely meshed. It’s like you have these people in this microcosm and their like push-pull on each other, where they’re struggling with the same struggles. So for me, I think it’s that kind of step forward from “Skim” to this book. That challenge of really creating a story that’s not just about the kids in this little bubble; to see these layered connections between the kids in the town, these kids in their respective homes, and all other different relationships. To me some of the most interesting scenes are the ones were something of the adults reverberate to the kids; their parents get into a fight, and that trickles down from the parents and then to the kid. And I think that sort of chain reaction is a super interesting one… It’s great to see someone on an adventure, fighting for their family or what have you, but at the same time most of our reality as teenagers is connected to our parents.

It really is interesting seeing these kids’ “bubbles” being formed and shaped by their parents.

It’s like a book about trying to be an adult, just as much for the adults as it is for the kids. These parents are trying to be adults, they’re trying to do the right thing. These teenagers are trying to be adults. And it’s all these varying groups of people that have this notion of what it means to be a grownup, and that depressing challenge of it being out of your reach.

Have you found yourself open to other avenues because of your exposure to graphic novels?

I ended up doing this short film called “Happy Sixteenth Birthday Kevin,” which is a movie about a sixteen year old Goth boy, but the cast is like me and my 30 year old friends. So I did that, because comics showed me how much I love dialogue, and I try to incorporate that as much as I can in the work that I’m doing.

“This One Summer” is available now. You can buy it online, or at your local book store.

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14. SDCC ’15 Interview: Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, and Chad Hardin talk Power Girl and Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn #17

Harley Quinn #17

By Harper W. Harris

Down in the bustle of the DC booth, I got a chance to talk with Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Chad Hardin, the team behind the ever popular Harley Quinn series, as well as newer books Harley Quinn and Power Girl and Starfire.

 

Harper W. Harris: When you wrote issue #12 of Harley Quinn, did you always plan on expanding that story into its own series or story?

Amanda Conner: Jimmy did.

Harley Quinn and Power Girl #2, out 7/22

Harley Quinn and Power Girl #2, out 7/22

Jimmy Palmiotti: Yeah, when we writing it, I said, it would be great if we could just make it a couple weeks later when they came out of the ring, and if this team up does okay, maybe they’ll let us tell that story. And it did do okay–it did better than okay! So when we pitched it to Dan [Didio], we said, well, we’d like to take what happened during those two weeks, how Power Girl got in a wedding dress, why these three eyed cats, and make it into six issues. He said, “If you can figure out all that, then go for it.” So we did. And we had Stephane Roux that wanted to draw it–we got lucky getting Stephane, so it all came together. It was sort of not a plan, but I left the door open in case something happened.

HH: What has it been like to return to Power Girl, a character that you had such a big impact on several years ago?

AC: We actually love Power Girl so much, and we miss working on that character, so we just said lets put Power Girl and Harley together, why not!

HH: They’re a good pairing so far! So speaking of Harley Quinn, the character has obviously gotten immensely popular in the last year or so. Has that level of fan involvement or popularity changed the way you view the character or the way you aim to tell her story?

AC: Not really–I mean we always loved the character. We wanted to make her the truest Harley that we knew how. I think it’s just resonated with a lot of people, because they feel like it’s very Harley-ish. I think that might be one of the reasons people love it so much, she feels like Harley. She’s wacky, she’s crazy, a little homicidal, but lovable.

JP: We like to say it’s because of Chad’s artwork too that’s sucking everybody into the book. I mean we got lucky–again a lot of things were just timing. The timing was right for the book, the tone that we thought may or may not work actually worked. It’s always a hit or miss when you’re going to change things up a little bit. We got lucky this time, I could tell you about the 40 other times we didn’t get lucky, but that would take up a whole other interview. We’re happy this worked out!

HH: Yeah, I think a big part of its success is the fresh, funny approach to a superhero story. What is your process in writing it as a comedy? Is there a lot of throwing out ideas, sketching them out, then seeing visually a way to make the situation funnier or add a new joke?

JP: We don’t really write it so much as a comedy as this is the story, and then we find the funny, absurd moments in it. All superhero comic books could easily be done like this with everything they do, everything from the capes to how ridiculous it is, if they can do all this, then why aren’t they doing that situations. So with Harley we actually try to lay out the story very grounded, like a regular comic format, this is what’s happening. As a matter of fact, as absurd as it is sometimes, she’s actually more based in the real world than some other characters because she goes through the motions: she’s on the street, she goes from this place to that place–there’s no jump to scenery, she has to get somewhere. We have whole scenes with car services and cabs–

Chad Hardin: Or she’s at work, or eating.

JP: She’s trying to do three jobs…it’s actually really grounded. But in that, it’s sort of like our own lives, right? There are these absurd moments that we see every day and we giggle and then we forget about. With Harley we have these absurd moments and we take it to a hyper sense of reality. And then we hand it over to Chad.

CH: Whenever they hand me the script, it’s like, how can I make this…more. You know, take the football across the goal line so to speak.

AC: And you always do!

JP: We like to think of it, whether it’s perceived that way or not, as a very grounded in reality story. We could be completely wrong and be just getting by on what we think, but that’s how we see it.

AC: You can have a very grounded story, but when Harley gets involved, everything just goes upside-down.

CH: She’s the touch of chaos that spins the universe into this chaotic motion, and that’s where the absurdity comes in.

From Harley Quinn #12, which led to the Harley Quinn and Power Girl mini-series

From Harley Quinn #12, which led to the Harley Quinn and Power Girl mini-series

JP: I also think it’s why people like the book. It’s one of the few books–we know the procedure of a superhero book is that it’s going to have the fight and then the cliffhanger–with Harley, you actually have no idea what’s going to happen on the next page. We throw random things–like all the sudden there are 800 birds on her–like we just go randomly in places and it should be that way, because that’s how her brain acts, so it shouldn’t be so linear in that way. It seems to work and we’re always happy when we get Chad’s pages back and we’re all laughing at things that we didn’t even write that are in the background. We’re like, that’s a really good working team when everybody’s putting their best into it. And with Alex Sinclair on colors, it’s one of the most fun books I’ve ever worked on.

HH: You guys definitely have an awesome team going, a great collaboration. Chad, how is the process different drawing for writers that are very talented artists in their own right?

CH: I don’t know how to explain this so much, but it is different in that it’s the most challenging book I’ve ever been on, but I don’t know why. It just is. But I think it’s because I don’t dare dial anything in.

AC: We know where he lives.

CH: Everything’s got to be perfect, perfect, perfect. We’re crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s. But I think the fans really respond to that.

JP: I harass him once in a while.

CH: If Jimmy doesn’t like something, I can tell immediately. He’ll give me like a one word note, like “cool” or “awesome”–if I don’t get that, I’m like, okay, something’s wrong.

JP: Like, “Staten Island has more trees.” He drew a scene, and he doesn’t know Staten Island, it has more trees.

AC: There is no island off the coast.

CH: Oops! I actually did go to New York, I walked around Coney Island and took a million pictures. But off the coast, I have no idea. Across the Brooklyn Bridge, I have no idea.

JP: We’re dealing with a real city, there are 4 million people in Brooklyn that might have something to say if we completely turn everything away.

HH: You can’t really fake that geography.

JP: Yeah. Even with the scatapult on the roof, Amanda kind of figures out where it is using Google Maps, where it would go over buildings.

CH: We have a map of the building, the floors. I know which way it faces, we’re pretty anal about it.

AC: Oh, we’re so anal about it–I downloaded all these apps so I can know what degrees it needs to be pointed at to hit any J Train that might be going over the Williamsburg Bridge–Oh no that’s the L Train, nevermind!

Starfire #3, out 8/12

Starfire #3, out 8/12

HH: I wanted to talk about Starfire–how did you get attracted to that character?

AC: They asked us to write it. [Laughs]

JP: They ask, how do you feel about Starfire, I’m not sure how I feel about Starfire. Amanda definitely has more history with her.

AC: I read all the Wolfman Perez Teen Titans, so I liked the character a lot. And I’ve seen her go through a lot different incarnations.

JP: They sent us the New 52 trades, and we read those, and I was like, okay, that’s that, but we also like the cartoon a lot. We laugh our asses off at the cartoon. There’s got to be a way we can make this work for us, in order for us to have interest in writing it. Dan said, alright, then pitch how you would want to do it and we’ll see if it works with what we’re thinking. We pitched the book you have. We said it’s a new town and she doesn’t want to be a superhero so much, like a new start. And they went for it. I think they had confidence with us doing Harley that maybe we could handle that. I don’t think we would’ve been offered it if we weren’t doing Harley. I don’t think it would’ve been a book they would have come to us with, so we hard to earn that book.

 

Harley Quinn #17, Starfire #2, and Harley Quinn and Power Girl #1 are all in stores now, with new issues coming soon!

2 Comments on SDCC ’15 Interview: Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, and Chad Hardin talk Power Girl and Harley Quinn, last added: 7/17/2015
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15. SDCC’15: Invite Goon creator Eric Powell to your 4th of July parties!

On the SDCC floor we caught up with creator of The Goon, Eric Powell, to talk about what could be the end for one of comic’s biggest cult icons as he wraps up The Goon: Once Upon a Hard Time. Read his thoughts about the challenges facing the modern creator owned era, an update from Hollywood, and some advice for throwing 4th of July parties.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 10.05.29 PM

Comics Beat: First I had a friend of mine, I told him I’d be talking to you. He grabs me on the shoulder and says “You gotta ask Eric if he’s ever lit a car on fire!” is there a story to that?

Eric Powell: Yes [laughs] and the answer is yes. No for a long time I lived in a town called Lebanon Tennessee, which is about half an hour outside of Nashville. I had about seven acres, so we lived out in the middle of nowhere and I used to have pretty epic Fourth of July parties every year. It escalated from, you know, just having a bond fire to an entire like living room suite that we set on fire. [We] sat on the couches and took photos with the entire living room on fire. [Laughs] And one year, this was the topper. I’m not endorsing this… this is not a good idea; it’s actually a very dumb idea. We filled an old wrecked 1972 Nova with about $600 worth of fireworks and about three gallons of gas.

 CB: Wow!

EP: We had on a giant amp system… crap I’m drawing a blank. Oh, it was Jimmy Hendrix’s “National Anthem” blasting.

 CB: [laughs] That sounds like the right way to celebrate America.

EP: It was an epic 4th of July party. It was so good and so over the top that I was just like… I don’t think I should have parties any more because this one will never be topped.

 CB: Once you hit the top right.

EP: It was the pinnacle and once you hit the pinnacle, you know.

 Comics Beat: That brings me to my next question about hitting the pinnacle with Once Upon A Hard Time. We’re approaching the end of this run; are you still certain this is going to be the last story with “The Goon”?

Eric Powell: I don’t want to give too much away but if you want to consider everything I’ve done [with the character] as one story; this is definitely wrapping up what I started in the first issue of The Goon back in 1999. Now,  Dark Horse is putting out these Library editions. What’s great about it is we’ll be able to take this entire arc and have these nice hardcover collections that give you the entire story in one batch [including all the previous hard to find stuff]. But I’m not giving up on that universe that I’ve established. Like I said, I don’t want to give too much away but I will be doing some stuff that is directly connected to what I’ve established there. I’ve got a new project that hasn’t been announced yet, but will shortly, that deals with this universe.

The Goon - Once Upon a Hard Time 1

The Goon: Once Upon a Hard Time #2

 CB: That sounds awesome especially with so much to this universe readers might not pick up on. You’re not giving up the whole universe but will we still see The Goon?

EB: We’ll have to see. Read the last issue of Once Upon a Hard Time [laughs]

 CB: That’s just wrong man! [laughs]

Issue four’s had a bit of a delay; has that been because of you going back and having difficulty finding the right note to go out on?

EB: A little bit of that. There was definitely a lot of back and fourth on the script and I’m putting a little bit extra into the art. Also my schedule just got really crazy with Big Man Plans and some cover work; then it was convention season so it got a little behind. Really I just wanted this issue because it is wrapping everything up… I just wanted to do the best I can on it.

Big Man Plans #3  from Image Comics

Big Man Plans #3 from Image Comics

 Comics Beat: Very few have ever created something and even fewer with the longevity of The Goon, I completely understand. So, what’s your take on the wave of modern creator owned work?

Eric Powell: I’m really excited and happy to see so many people doing great creator owned books and to see it finally breaking out. Where you can have a book with no movie or TV tie-in selling 20 or 30 thousand copies and competing with stuff Marvel and DC is doing.

CB: It’s been a great thing for comics overall.

EP: It has, it’s helped the industry.

CB: More now than ever with stuff by independent creators there seems to be a flavor for everyone.

EP: Exactly, and I’ve caught a lot of flack talking about the need for it.

CB: [laughs] you’ve caught flack for a lot of different things.

EP: Yeah, but I’ve cost my self some work from it because I was so vocal, but I felt like I should stick to my guns and speak up. I grew up a Marvel kid. I read Marvel Comics, I love that stuff. I love the Hulk. Seeing that scene in Avengers where he picks up Loki and smashes him on the floor; I was giddy. But do I think that stuff should be given special treatment on the stands or the thing shops are solely ordering? We should be like television and we should be like film and we should have something out there everyone can like [for different audiences] to build a broader readership. Over the last five years or so it’s been exploding. We’ve got a huge female readership that’s opening up. It’s great. We need diversity, we need diversification, and the content to survive and grow.

 Comics Beat: True. With the recent partnership Dark Horse has announced. If that relationship were able to push The Goon into full feature (further than its been) would you come back and do another story to go along with it?

Eric Powell: Well we’re still working on our animated film. Tim Miller who’s the director of the Deadpool movie, his company Blur Studio, along with Jeff Fowler has been trying to get this thing off the ground. We’re still trying to get a studio behind it while finishing edits on the animatic we funded through Kickstarter. They’re putting together a package with Fincher again and going out and doing the hard sell. We’re still pushing it and trying to get this thing done.

CB: Well we hope to see it sooner than later considering you won’t tell me if I’ll ever get another Goon story. Thank you Eric Powell for talking with us; and every brutal, hilarious, and captivating moment since ’99. 

Once Upon a Hard Time #4

Once Upon a Hard Time #4

Ladies and gentlemen, Eric Powell has been on a hell of a run with The Goon and we can’t wait to see how he brings it to a close. It’s not too late to jump into the world of The Goon. Once Upon a Hard Time #4 comes out August. His other current project, Big Man Plans, published by Image Comics is also in stores now. Pick them all up and invite him to your 4th of July party at your own risk. 

 

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16. SDCC ’15 Interview: Tom King and Tim Seeley Chat About Grayson

Grayson #9 (on sale now)

Grayson #9 (on sale now)

By Harper W. Harris

Among the DC books that sparked a sort of revolution for the publisher in terms of new kinds of stories is Grayson, the espionage comic by Tom King, Tim Seeley, and Mikel Janin. In a nice and surprisingly quiet corner of the convention, I was able to sit down and have a chat with King and Seeley about the former Robin that they have brought to such exciting new heights.
Harper W. Harris: Grayson kind of paved the way for a lot of the genre books…

[Tim and Tom do a fist bump]

HH: Yeah! And it kind helped start a cool revolution for DC in terms of what kind of books they were putting out. What do you feel are the challenges or advantages of telling a more genre story within a superhero universe?

Tim Seeley: Inherently superheroes are always really flexible and always have been. You’re sort of making a hero that’s bigger than an idea, bigger than one person, and you can put it into so many different things. Obviously Batman is sort of more of a  detective story, Superman is more of a science fiction story, but they all are superhero stories. So I think our approach to this was, let’s do an espionage style genre story, but let’s firmly embrace its superhero roots. You kind of get that wonderful fusion that makes superheroes the most popular genre on earth at this point, they’re so flexible and available to embrace new things while still being stories that are aspirational and colorful and fun and crazy.

Tom King: The approach was never for us to just write in the spy genre, it was let’s write the best Dick Grayson story we can. Like, growing up I didn’t realize I was reading different genres.  I didn’t realize when I was reading [Walt] Simonson’s Thor that I was reading a huge fantasy epic. It still felt like a superhero story to me.

TS: Yeah, sure.

TK: Or like I didn’t read the noir detective stuff of [Batman] Year One, like I didn’t get that he was using all those tricks. I think we’re taking the spy genre and using that to tell the best superhero stories. We’re stealing some tropes to inject some energy. We’re superhero writers, we want to write frickin’ awesome superhero stories. Am I allowed to say that? I’m saying it.

HH: I think you’re entitled to that! One of the other cool things about the book getting started is that we know Grant Morrison always gives us tons of great characters and ideas with his books, and most of those never get used again. How did you decide to follow up on some of those threads from Batman, Inc.?

Grayson #10 (on sale 7/22)

Grayson #10 (on sale 7/22)

TK: My main approach to that was to throw away my part of the pitch and take Tim’s.

TS: [Laughs] That’s exactly how I’ve always thought of Grant’s stuff, he blows in with a bunch of crazy ideas and then just drops the mic and walks out, and a lot of people don’t pick up on that stuff because it’s too weird or so Grant Morrison. I feel like I’ve been reading his stuff for so long and recognize how great these ideas are, and it’s frustrating that nobody picks them up, so I was going to rectify that wrong. I’m going to use this amazing thing he left behind called Spyral, it has to be used because it’s so weird and so fun. When DC said make Dick a spy, I couldn’t think of anything for my first pitch, and Chris Burnham sat in my studio and he was drawing the Batman, Inc. stuff and he had left a Spyral symbol on the table and I was like, “That’s it! I’ll use Spyral.”

TK: I’ve never heard that story! That’s an exclusive story, I’ve been on every interview with him and I’ve never heard that before.

TS: Chris designed that symbol. It helps to be around comics dudes all the time so you can steal their ideas. It seemed so appropriate for the character, because Dick is such a black and white guy, there’s good and bad and he’s always going to do the right thing, but he’s going to work for somebody that’s completely gray. Therein lay the conflict of our issues.

HH: Seems like Kathy Kane showed up at the end of issue eight…do you have plans to further her story?

TK: In this series, nothing is what it seems. We keep saying this and we’re going to keep saying it: our goal is 100% to surprise you. We never want you to be relaxed and to be like, okay I know where this is going, I’m going to sit down and read another villain of the month–I don’t like those kinds of comics. I want the stakes to be high, I want you to be blown away by what you’re reading. So I can’t spoil what’s going to happen, but it’s not what you think is going to happen.

TS: Keep in mind that Spyral’s whole thing is spreading disinformation and mind control, and sometimes we may be playing the Spyral game on the readers. That’s how we keep ourselves entertained: by being the villains that we portray in the comic book.

TK: You need to put lipstick on then.

TS: It looks very nice. [Laughs]

HH: When you first started out, did you always plan to move Helena to where she is now? Was that a longform plan?

TS: I think one of our ideas was to always change it up, that their relationship is always changing: she’s his partner, she’s his boss, he’s her boss, they’re romantically involved, they’re not. What makes it fun is as a reader you’re constantly second guessing what the plan is, you know? That was definitely part of the deal.

TK: We’d introduced this character, The Tiger, Agent One, as sort of the best spy in the DCU. He’s this Afghani, the Tiger king of Kandahar, he’s such a frickin’ great character. As soon as I put him on the page I wanted him to be Dick’s partner, I loved the chemistry between them and I loved where they could go together and I wanted to elevate him. The idea of having them as partners and Helena above him is just too appealing. As soon as I said it, I was like, “Alright.”

TS: It changes up Dick’s relationships with the other characters too, because Helena was a very understanding but firm partner, Tiger’s just always telling him he’s an idiot. Their relationship changes, and it keeps allowing us to keep making a book about all kinds of different things.

HH: So there have been some hints here and there that Dick Grayson might be bisexual, is that something that you guys plan on expanding?

Grayson Bow Tie

“Am I Straight?”

TK: Who said that?

TS: No, I mean…

TK: He was talking about his bow tie.

TS: He was talking about his bow tie, for sure. I mean for us there’s some fun in the sexy aspect of the spy genre, but I think to us the character is a very flexible guy. I don’t know if its our job in this particular story to do anything that changes his sexuality, but I think it’s fun to play around with it because part of his job is to be the seducer. It also involves playing parts that are not necessarily who he is, and part of it is him sometimes discovering things about himself as he plays parts. It’s just another of our ways of keeping you guessing, that’s the fun, right? And he was talking about his tie! I don’t know what you guys are talking about.

HH: You guys have a unique collaboration in how you co-write, alternating scripts. What do you think makes your partnership and method a good one for this book?

TK: I come from this school of superhero comics where I sort of worship Frank Miller and Alan Moore, if you read my other stuff like Omega Men you’ll see that. I want to tell dark dirges and philosophical stories, and that is not who Dick Grayson is. There is a Dick Grayson story out there, that it’s always tempting to be like, he was raised by Batman and he hates it, and Batman sort of abused him and put him in this situation and he’s sad and thinks about it while he looks into his belly button. I would probably write that story–I wrote a whole novel for Simon & Schuster that was about that concept. Tim’s here to say, “Tom, no, this is fun and exciting and amazing, let’s do a supercool adventure comic!”

TS: I mean yeah, I’m the lighter of the two as far as our approach to superheroes goes. But what Tom brings is his interesting perspective in that he’s been in the field and he’s done that sort of thing and knows the emotional weight of it. And I think the way the book works is that you feel this sort of back and forth that is kind of like what Dick’s life is probably like, where it could be very complex and dark, and you get an issue like #3 that’s very much a Tom story with Agent Eight, but we can also do an issue like #4 that’s somewhat lighter and sort of about the youthful aspect of Dick Grayson. I think when Tom and I first started talking about this book, we would just have this long conversation about what it means to be Dick and what his place in the DCU is. In the end we batted around a lot of stuff and some of it was the same and some of it wasn’t, but when we got down to it we totally agreed on what he is. So what kind of book he’s in can change, but who he is I think we agree 100%. I think that’s why we get a book that people respond to; I wouldn’t have wrote the book the way it is without Tom, and Tom wouldn’t have wrote the book the way it is without me. And neither of us could’ve written it the way it is without Mikel Janin or Jeromy Cox. It’s all about that collaboration, and that’s why the book is what it is. It’s a lot of voices melding into one solid voice.

Grayson, Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral (on sale now)

Grayson, Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral (on sale now)

HH: What real or fictional spies are your inspirations for Dick Grayson?

TS: Go ahead, real life spy.

TK: My buddy Fred, my buddy Jane…

TS: All the sudden the sniper light is on your head…

TK: Can I give like the stupid avoiding answer? Dick Grayson of Spyral, that character, he doesn’t need another character to be laid over him. He’s got 75 years of history, he’s older than James Bond. James Bond was inspired by him!

TS: Suck it Ian Fleming!

TK: I’m not trying to write a book that’s James Bond in the DCU, I’m trying to write a book that is Dick Grayson in the DCU.

TS: I think that’s the answer, yeah. The job of the book is to play with the tropes that you’re familiar with in the spy genre, to play with the kind of story that you’re used to, but to do it differently and to add this character who is the heart of the story. Dick, being who he is, and his history–that’s really the core of the book. We know as people who have seen a lot of movies and read a lot of books and read a lot of comics what a spy story is and what those characters are, but to us it’s about playing against them or playing with the tropes. It’s about Dick Grayson, first. That was a good answer Tom, that wasn’t a cheesy answer that was a good answer!

TK: The trade just came out, it’s the hardcover, and we’re so proud of it. It’s the first volume and it has my Future’s End issue in it, which was the weird backwards one which I can’t believe how proud I am of that issue. Please check it out!

 

Grayson #9 is on shelves now, with #10 coming out on 7/22, and the hardcover first volume is also out as well!

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17. How to Produce A One-Man Web Series: Pat Smith on Making ‘Blank on Blank’

Smith singlehandedly transforms interviews of well-known figures into thought-provoking animation in 'Blank on Blank.'

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18. SDCC ’15 Interview: Mark Waid Discusses Archie #1

Archie #1 (art by Fiona Staples)

Archie #1 (art by Fiona Staples)

By Harper W. Harris

Among his lauded superhero comics, Mark Waid is also writing the highly publicized Archie #1, which relaunches the flagship title of the publisher, featuring art by the 2015 best penciller Eisner winner Fiona Staples. I had a chance to speak with him in between signings and panels to get his take on everyone’s favorite comics love triangle.

Harper W. Harris: What is your history with Archie? Have you been a fan of the characters for a long time, and how did you get involved?

Mark Waid: I mean, like everybody, I read Archie comics growing up. But I worked on staff for a brief time as an editor in the early ‘90s, and at that point did a deep dive on the character for the first time, went through the library and read all that stuff, and that made me an aficionado for life. Just looking at the the beauty and the variety and the bounce of the artwork in the ‘40s and ‘50s, and watching the character dynamics, and realizing that these characters are much deeper than we give them credit for. There’s much more to them than we tend to see. So when they called me a few months ago and asked me if I wanted to jump in on this, my first instinct was, you know, I’m a 53 year old man, why are you asking me about 16 year old teenagers. But then I thought about it, and you know what, I’m willing to step up to the plate and take a swing at that because I love these characters and I’m very protective of them. Whenever I take on something like Daredevil or Superman or Archie or something, I’m very protective of characters who have existed since before I was born, because I think that there’s clearly something about them that makes them perennial, vital characters, that makes people still want to tell stories about them after all these years. And that fascinates me, like what is it about those characters? Drilling down and then trying to figure out what that nugget is that makes those characters something where, as opposed to like Betty Boop or Woody Woodpecker or Andy Panda, that are nostalgic, nobody’s telling stories about them. So that’s what fascinates me. So with the Archie characters, when they gave me that opportunity, I thought, okay, clearly my high school experience is different from your high school experience is different from my 15 year old stepdaughter’s experience, but there are certain things about being a teenager that, I swear to god, are universal. The idea that you don’t know who you are yet and you’re trying to figure out your identity. Or you remember what it’s like to be flustered and embarrassed in front of the opposite sex. That feeling that everything you do is the end of the world and every bad thing that happens feels like its going to last forever. Those are the things that are universal to every teenager that ever lived, so those are the things you concentrate on. You don’t concentrate on Snapchat and Instagram and Twitter and hashtags and stuff like that, you don’t cram that into the story; that’s window dressing. The stuff that makes it timeless is the emotions.

HH: One of the interesting things about this new Archie book is that you are tackling the “origin” of Archie. You usually think of an origin in comics as when somebody got their superpowers or stopped their first crime or whatever–how did you go figuring out where the starting point should be for the character?

MW: I really started thinking about the Betty/Veronica/Archie dynamic, because the things is, and this is going back to the original DNA of the strip: the whole idea of will Archie choose Betty or Veronica is actually a fairly recent construct, that’s more of an ‘80s or ’90s thing. While it served the comics well at the time and it’s certainly one of the questions that people still ask, you know, will he choose Betty or Veronica, it kind of makes the girls like property to be owned. It makes them feel like they’re competing–it’s weird too that they’re supposed to be best friends and yet they’re dating the same boy all the time. So I stepped back for a minute and I thought, let’s go back to the original DNA of the strip which is that Betty is the tomboy underdog who is attracted to Archie but can’t get his attention because of glamorous Veronica and Archie being a dumbass about that. That just made more sense to me. With that in mind, the other thing that sort of makes it feel like an origin is that I needed it to be a more diverse cast, I desperately needed it to be a more diverse cast. The five main Archie characters–Reggie, Jughead, Archie, Betty, and Veronica–are traditionally white characters, white Cis characters. I needed a little more variety. Luckily, Archie has a very deep bench in the last ten years of very diverse supporting characters in the Archie Universe. So the first instinct was, let’s leave Veronica off the table for a little while, let’s leave Reggie off the table for a little while, let’s make room for Raj and Kevin and some of the other characters who are not your typical whitebread Archie characters. So I think that also sort of helps it feel like an origin in that you’re still sort of introducing some of these characters.

HH: You talked in a panel earlier today that your approach to Betty is that she’s in a sort of awkward stage where she’s not one of the boys anymore. Do you plan on exploring a lot of the characters in that way and giving them a point of view as opposed to the book just being about Archie?

Archie #2 (on sale 8/19)

Archie #2 (on sale 8/19)

MW: Oh yeah. Here’s the thing: Archie is the hub of the wheel, he’s the guy that has to be, in a way, the most unremarkable character in the book, because everyone else is sort of “Archie but he’s a foodie,” or “Archie but she’s a tomboy” or “Archie but she’s glamorous.” Everybody is a variation on the typical American teenager, so he has to be at the center. But the problem with that, of course, is that the typical American teenager is not a terribly glamorous or interesting in and of itself, and I’m not sure what that means in the 21st century either. So what I’m doing is using Archie as the lens to look at all those other characters. Issue two deals more with Jughead and why he’s an iconoclast and why he wears a hat and why he is the way he is. Issue three deals a lot more with Veronica–she could just be a stuck up rich bitch, but first of all we hate her that way and secondly that’s not very interesting. Instead, we’re treating her more like it’s Kim Kardashian coming to your high school. She doesn’t think she’s a bad person, and most of the time she’s not a bad person. It’s still that she doesn’t really connect well with the little people. That’s the trick, really drilling down on them and making them interesting and making them all relatable. Nobody invents a time machine, nobody has such a wacky adventure that it could never really happen to a teenager. We push the envelope a little bit, but by and large I want to keep those characters pretty well grounded.

HH: One of the other interesting things about starting this new series is that in the past, Archie stories have had little to no continuity from issue to issue. Is your approach more to tell the stories as arcs, one long story, or in short one-off stories?

Mark Waid at SDCC '15

Mark Waid at SDCC ’15

MW: It’s sort of in the arc format, but every issue still stands on its own. Every issue has a beginning, middle, and end, and then the soap opera is what brings you back from issue to issue. In terms of continuity, look, if the other artists and writers doing the Archie stuff want to play off what I’m doing, that’s awesome. If Chip Zdarsky instead wants to do Jughead in space, that’s fine too, that’s going to be awesome. The Archie stuff really does adapt itself really well to whether it’s continuity or not continuity. All the stuff in the ‘60s–there’s this great book that just came out called 12 Cent Archie by Bart Beaty. It’s an examination of Archie comics in the 1960s, and how continuity didn’t mean anything and that was its strength. Like in one issue Betty can be a master chef, and in the very next issue Betty can burn everything down in the kitchen. It didn’t matter because it served the plot. Archie can be a football hero in one issue and in the next issue be a scrub, it didn’t matter because it’s funny and that’s the plot. So there’s a part of me that likes doing the arch stuff where there’s a continuity to it, but I have no problem at all if the other guys want to run off in a different direction. I mean, Chip Zdarsky and Adam Hughes, I just want to see them do their thing.

HH: Alright, I’ll let you go on an easy one: Team Betty or Team Veronica?

MW: Hmmm…Team Betty, but I’m beginning to soften on Veronica a bit as we get into that very shellacked head of hers.

 

Archie #1 is on shelves now, with the second issue due out on 8/19!

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19. Interview with Lynne Jonell

SignCatFolks, one of the things I love about this job is the fact that I get to watch authors’ careers bloom and blossom.  I see authors starting out or at the beginning of their careers and watch as they garner praise and flourishes throughout the years.  Today’s example is author Lynne Jonell.  Back in 2007 I very much enjoyed her book Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat.  She’s written so much since then, but her latest is the one that caught my eye.  Recently Kirkus said of The Sign of the Cat in a starred review that, “Intriguing, well-drawn characters, evocatively described settings, plenty of action, and touches of humor combine to create an utterly satisfying adventure.”  The book follows the adventures of a boy who can communicate with cats.  So, right there.  You’ve got me.  Add in Lynne’s amazing answers to my questions (come for the interview, stay for the reference to a “squishing machine”) and you’ve got yourself a blog post, my friend.

Betsy Bird: Hello, Lynne!  So let’s just start with the basics from the get go.  Where did this book come from?  I mean to say, what was the impetus that made you want to write it?

Lynne Jonell: Hi, Betsy! The first and shallowest impetus for the book was that, back in 2006, I had sent a book off to my publisher but was still in full-steam-ahead writing mode. I wasn’t up for starting a whole new novel just yet, but I thought I could manage a chapter book.

Secondly, as a child, I had always wished I could speak the secret language of animals. Very quickly, a concept took shape—there would be a boy (I had never written about a boy, and it seemed like a new challenge), he could speak Cat (I love cats, plus it seemed that they would be privy to a lot of information—cats go everywhere, and no one worries about whether or not a cat is going to repeat what it hears), and he didn’t know what had happened to his father (every story needs a problem, right? I knew that much.)

Concepts won’t sustain a book for very long, though. For me, there has to be something underneath, some deeper thing that drives me to write a particular story. I usually have no idea what this thing is, or where it is rooted, but I can tell when it is there because I will have an image in my mind—something that haunts me.

EmmyIncredibleWhen I have a vivid picture—no matter that it makes no sense yet—I know there is power somewhere, there is energy enough for an entire book. Then I will begin to write toward that image. For example, Emmy & the Incredible Shrinking Rat started with a dream of a piece of green paper with a curved line, and later an image of a cane carved with the faces of little girls.

When I was beginning to toy around with The Sign of the Cat, I saw a boy and a kitten in the sea, struggling to stay afloat as the ship they’d been on sailed away into the night. There was a man on deck of the ship, too. He watched the boy without expression, and he did not give the alarm.

Soon more images began to come—a tiger, a squishing machine, Duncan hiding in a closet and watching with horror as a man dug into a pie—and I couldn’t fit them all into a chapter book. I picked up the story from time to time, playing around with it, but it wasn’t until 2010 that some of the pieces came together and I began to work seriously on the book. Now, of course, I know what the book means to me—and it’s full of personal references—but at the beginning, I didn’t have the faintest idea where it was going.

BB: You’re no stranger to the world of fantasy, but sometimes I feel like you tend to keep one foot rooted in the real world as well.  You’re not quite a magical realism writer, but when fantastical elements appear in your books they seem to happen in a world very much like our own.  Is there any particular reason for that, do you think?

lynnejonell-2011LJ: Yes, absolutely. My favorite books, as a child, were ones in which magical things happened to ordinary children, going about their ordinary business. Then suddenly—wham! The chemistry set made them invisible, the strange coin they picked up off the street gave them wishes, the nursery carpet turned out to contain the egg of a phoenix, the toy ship purchased in a dark and dusty shop could grow to carry four children, and fly… I loved the idea that maybe, just maybe, it might someday happen to me.

Children today may seem more sophisticated than we were, but that’s superficial… deep down, they are developmentally the same, and they believe in the possibility of magic a lot longer than you might think. I have had ten year olds ask me, very shyly, if the magic in my books was real.

That’s why I love to make the world of the book close to the child reader’s world. It seems as if the magic could happen to them, too, someday. And rather than magical realism, perhaps you could call my books “magical science”, because I always base the magic on some scientific concept, to make things even more plausible. For instance, in The Sign of the Cat, I was fascinated with the concept of critical periods of brain development.

There’s a famous study where normal kittens had their eyes covered for a few months after birth. When the covering was removed, the kittens were blind. Their eyes were normal, and there was nothing wrong with the optic nerve, but the connections between the brain and the optic nerve hadn’t been made during a crucial period. There are critical periods with hearing, too, and attachment (think imprinting, with baby ducks), and the acquisition of language.

I thought, what if there’s a critical period where humans had the ability to learn Cat? We wouldn’t know it, because cats can’t be bothered to teach anyone anything, and the chance would go by forever!

BB: What kinds of books did you read when you were a kid?  I’m crossing my fingers for the name “Edward Eager” to appear, just so’s you know.

PhoenixCarpetJL: Oh, sure, Edward Eager, of course—but his inspiration was E. Nesbit, and I loved her books even more. The Phoenix and the Carpet, and Five Children and It—masterpieces. I also adored Eleanor Cameron, anything by Ruth Chew (I loved The Wednesday Witch), Hilda Lewis (The Ship That Flew), Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the Narnia books of course, The Hobbit, anything by Elizabeth Enright, Eleanor Estes, Rudyard Kipling; I could go on and on…

I also had an abiding fascination with fiction about Native Americans—the different tribes, how they lived, the various cultures. I had a deep and secret longing to go back in time, before European settlers arrived, and be a Dakota boy. I wanted to be a boy because, in the books, they always had the adventures—and I also decided I would have to have perfect vision, because I was terribly nearsighted and I knew I couldn’t steal horses and count coup when I couldn’t see past my nose. I think this period was at its height when I was in fourth grade, and I remember many summer mornings where I’d grab my favorite stick and go off to some vacant lot or field where I would become that Dakota boy for hours on end.

BB: I once ran a children’s bookgroup and held up a new fantasy for them to peruse. One of them groaned audibly when they saw the number on the spine. “No more series!” she cried.  I don’t know that that kid was exactly the norm, but she did at least prove to me that there are kids out there that prefer standalone novels to series books.  Is The Sign of the Cat a standalone or the first in a series?  How did you come to make that decision?

 JL: The Sign of the Cat is a stand-alone. I don’t know how that decision was made, actually—it seems that the book made the decision for me. A reviewer said that Cat was a good “series starter” and I wondered where that came from! But I suppose that everyone, when a book ends, likes to wonder what happens next.

BB: Would you call yourself a “cat person”?  If so, do you think a non-cat person could ever write a book of this sort?

JL: I’m more a cat person than a dog person. I like the way cats are a little aloof, and don’t slobber all over you with their affection, and aren’t very needy—but they are capable of deep attachment once you get to know them. I like their independence.

rat-cookieBut I don’t own a cat, and I don’t think I needed to be a cat person to write this book. I am most definitely not a rat person, yet I wrote three books about rats!

BB: If you could speak the language of any kind of animal besides cats, what would it be?

JL: Birds. I would so love to fly… I think they might speak very poetically about flight, and they could come to my windowsill and tell me all about it.

BB: And finally, what are you working on next?

Castle_MenziesJL: I’m working on a time-travel book based in Scotland. And yes—there was an image with this book, too. The first was a postcard of Castle Menzies. My grandfather, whose clan it was, showed me the picture when I was a child, and I never forgot it.

The second image came 45 years later; I had a vivid mental picture of an acorn rolling out from a stone wall. I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew that the stone wall was part of the castle, and I also knew that it was time to get to work on that particular book.

BB:  Well, many thanks to Ms. Jonell for joining us today.  Now about that “squishing machine” . . .

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20. Director John Tiffany Talks about New Harry Potter Play

In an exclusive interview with Scotland Now, director John Tiffany talks about his early acquaintance with J.K. Rowling and his decision to work on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Tiffany is the former assistant director of the National Theatre of Scotland and has worked on several productions.

I first met Jo years ago when we didn’t know who each other was. I had just started at the Traverse in Edinburgh, and now and again I would see a woman with a pram writing in longhand in the cafe. She’d write in Nicholson’s, The Elephant House and the Traverse cafe.

We knew each other to nod at. I’d be having meetings with writers and actors and I’d see her. Eventually we’d say hello to each other and a year later – bam!.

Rowling was writing her novels, and now, 20 years later, Tiffany will be directing her play. Apparently, it was a decision that he weighed heavily.  With Scotland Now, Tiffany says:

It was my three nephews and my colleague Vicki Featherstone’s two kids who said to me, ‘You have to do this’ when I first spoke to them about it.

They were instrumental. Those stories sparked something amazing in them that will never leave them. Particularly the reading of the books. People get very emotional when they talk about Jo and her books, because a lot of kids learned to read, or think they learned to read, because of Harry Potter.

While John Tiffany says that he read the Harry Potter books as an adult, he knows that they have had a profound effect on a generation.  He also remembers that they were some of the first children’s books that adults had no shame in reading in public.

In the interview, Tiffany also talks about his hopes for the play’s eventual world tour.

To learn more from John Tiffany, see here.

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21. Closing Time: Anthony Desiato’s ‘My Comic Shop History’ Chronicles the Life, Death, and Legacy of His Local Comic Shop

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In the end, memories are what make us who we are.  Although they slip away so easily, these small fragments of past inform our future decisions and influence us every moment we’re alive.  For most of us comic book readers, a formative moment in our personal histories is the first time we step into a comic shop.  The pulpy smell of fresh floppies stacked in Diamond stamped boxes.  The glistening translucent cases filled with TCG singles at exorbitant prices.  The stern and booming voices of people arguing Batman chronology in the back by the trades.

The places individual comics fans make these universal memories shape their lives.  For Director and Comics Historian Anthony Desiato and many other comics luminaries from upstate New York such as Rocket Girl writer Brandon Montclare, these formative experiences took place at Alternate Realities, which is going out of business after nearly a quarter of a century.

Desiato has made it his mission to chronicle the store’s final days through his podcast, My Comic Shop History.  The last episode of this audio series comes out today, and in honor of his intriguing work and Alternate Realities’ storied history, we sat down with him to talk about the legacy of the store.


 

Alex Lu: So for those unfamiliar with Alternate Realities, can you give us a brief overview of your store’s history and what makes it special?

Anthony Desiato: Alternate Realities is (soon-to-be “was,” sadly) a comic book store in Scarsdale, NY, that is closing up shop for good after 23 years.

The store is the subject of my independent film, My Comic Shop DocumentARy, and my current podcast, My Comic Shop History.

The podcast is a 12-episode exploration of the store & its closing from the perspective of past and present owners, customers, and employees. We’ve been peeling back the curtain on the retail side of the comic book industry as we discuss the store’s inner-workings and comic shop culture generally.

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What makes the store special—and the reason I’ve found it such a source of inspiration—is the community.

We count among our ranks a customer who worked at T.G.I. Friday’s but claimed to have killed 25 people in the line of duty as a secret agent; our resident curmudgeon, a former flea market vendor who condemns modern society with language that would make a sailor blush; and the store’s owner, Steve Oto, who traded his legal career for a life behind the counter and a very love-hate relationship with his clientele.

Lu: What’s your role in the store and how long have you been involved?

Desiato: Heroes World (a long-defunct store in White Plains) was my first comic shop, and when it abruptly closed on me during elementary school, Alternate Realities became my new go-to place. For the first few years of my patronage there, I was just the shy kid who would pick up my books every week while my mother waited in the car.

In high school, Steve offered me a summer job, and that was my entry into a whole new world. Throughout high school and college, both my level of responsibility at the store as well as my friendships with the guys who shopped & worked there would grow.

It wasn’t until the end of my employment there (during law school) that I began to take on my current role of—for lack of a better term—“store chronicler.” That new path gave birth to my film about the store, its spinoff (By Spoon! The Jay Meisel Story), and now the podcast.

Lu: What do you think drove the decision to close the store?

Desiato: If you believe Steve’s closing announcement, he’s closing in large part “because of those customers who have left me in the lurch” by not buying the items they ordered. However, if you truly analyze the situation, as we’ve been doing over the course of My Comic Shop History, it becomes clear that the stated reason for closing is perhaps a bit disingenuous.

If customers are reneging on their orders, there are steps a store can take to at least try to remedy the situation first. Closing the store is the nuclear option! It’s not really a proportionate response to address what’s ultimately a small group of delinquent customers.

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What we all realize is that Steve’s complaints are really just symptomatic of a growing frustration and fatigue with running the business.

In Episode 7 (“Comic Shop Business School”), I spoke with the owner of The Spider’s Web, a relatively new comic shop in Yonkers. That owner is two years in and still has his passion for the business and the hobby.

After 23 years of the grind of running a small business, Steve simply doesn’t have that anymore. As he has said many, many times over the years—in person, on Facebook, in My Comic Shop DocumentARy, and in My Comic Shop History—he’s tired. And I don’t think anyone would dispute that he’s earned his rest.

Lu: How has the community responded to the store’s closing?

Desiato: That’s really what the podcast is all about and why I wanted to do it in the first place.

Aside from the friendship we share, what I hope listeners take away from this show is how much we all care about “The Store.”

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Everyone who has participated in the podcast has worked, owned, or volunteered at Alternate Realities at some point. We’ve all invested time and effort and wanted the store to be as strong as possible.

To see the store end in this way has been very bittersweet. Not to speak for the entire community, but for myself and many of the people I spoke to on the podcast, I feel there’s a sense of sadness that it came to this, acceptance that it’s the right move for Steve, and, most importantly, appreciation for everything the store has meant to us. It’s been our clubhouse, truly.

Lu: Given that Alternate Realities has such a long and storied history, those who have been there have had the unique perspective of having seen the comics reading audience grow exponentially and the industry dramatically change. How would you compare comics at the store’s opening to comics now, at the store’s close?

Desiato: Well, seeing as how I was 5 when the store opened, I’m not sure I can really give a full answer to that question! Interestingly, though, the store opened the same year that “The Death of Superman” (my first comic) came out. That was arguably the beginning of “event” storytelling as we know it today, and the store is closing amidst Convergence and Secret Wars, two huge events from the Big Two. So, in a way, maybe not that much has changed!

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To answer your question more specifically: Based on the time that I’ve been affiliated with Alternate Realities, I would argue that we have not seen huge shifts the way you might expect. For example, the rise of comic book movies didn’t necessarily drive hordes of new customers to the store. At the same time, the advent of digital comics did not erode our customer base too much, either.

Lu: What do you think is the next big thing for the industry?

On the retail side, one of the things we talk about on the podcast (we do a “Comic Shop Business School” series-within-a-series across a number of episodes) is how comic shops need to be a “destination” in order to survive these days. Areas to hang out, events, signings–things like that.

Lu: What new projects are the Alternate Realities crew heading off to pursue?

To find out what the store’s owner, Steve Oto, is up to next, I encourage folks to listen to the finale of the podcast, out today! Up next for me is a new documentary and, hopefully, more podcasting in the future! As for our group, we plan to continue the friendships we forged at Alternate Realities. The store may be gone, but the community lives on.


RENT My Comic Shop DocumentARy and By Spoon! The Jay Meisel Story on Vimeo!

SUBSCRIBE to My Comic Shop History on iTunes!

LIKE My Comic Shop History on Facebook!

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22. Interview and Giveaway: Power Play by Tiffany Snow

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Tiffany!  What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Tiffany Snow] I’d say my cell phone, but that’s probably everyone’s answer. So I’ll change it up a bit and add that I won’t leave the house without putting on my eyebrow gel (don’t ask—it’s a weird makeup thing that I feel naked without).

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Tiffany Snow] My peacock lamp, a birthday card from my best friend, and a copy of my book POINT OF NO RETURN signed by Ian Somerhalder.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline?

[Tiffany Snow] Doritos (Cool Ranch). Leaves the nastiest aftertaste but they’re like crack.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Tiffany Snow] Kade Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.  She’s beautiful, married to a prince, AND she’s a duchess. Plus, I’d have a posh British accent for a day which would be very cool.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week.  Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?

[Tiffany Snow] I’d choose to be able to travel backwards in time—not forwards—and I’d go back in time and eyewitness historical events such as the Gettysburg Address, Washington’s crossing of the Potomac, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the building of the pyramids, the painting of the Sistine Chapel, and anything else I could think of.

About Tiffany Snow

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Tiffany Snow earned degrees in Education and History from the University of Missouri-Columbia, before launching a career in Information Technology. After over a decade in IT, she switched careers to what she always dreamed of doing – writing. Tiffany is the author of romantic suspense novels such as the Kathleen Turner Series, which includes No Turning Back, Turn to Me and Turning Point. Since she’s drawn to character-driven books herself, that’s what she loves to write, and the guy always gets his girl. She feeds her love of books with avid reading, yet she manages to spare time and considerable affection for trivia, eighties hair bands, the St. Louis Cardinals, and Elvis. She and her husband have two daughters and one dog.

http://www.tiffanyasnow.com/

https://twitter.com/TiffanyASnow

https://www.facebook.com/TiffanyASnow


About Power Play

THIS KIND OF BUSINESS CAN ONLY BE PERSONAL
Sage Reese lives for her job. More precisely, she lives for her debonair boss, Parker Andersen. Sage handles everything for Parker, even as she fantasizes about the one thing that isn’t in her job description: him. But when a high-stakes account crosses the line from shady to deadly, a tough cop starts giving Sage the attention she wishes Parker would . . .
Detective Dean Ryker couldn’t be more different from Parker. While Parker wears expensive suits like a second skin and drives a BMW, Ryker’s uniform is leather jackets and jeans . . . and his ride of choice is a Harley. While Parker’s sexiness is a reserved, slow burn, Ryker is completely upfront about what-and who-he’s after. And Sage tops his list.
Now, as Ryker digs deeper into the dark side of Parker’s business, Sage finds herself caught between two men: the one she’s always wanted-and the one who makes her feel wanted like never before . . .

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23. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Michael Emberley



 

Well, dear readers, it’s been a while since I’ve done a breakfast interview. Since I’ve been teaching this summer, it takes me longer to get to these more time-intensive Q&As. My visitor today, illustrator Michael Emberley, deserves an award (or a free breakfast perhaps) for his patience with me. We started talking last year about doing this interview.

And I’m really glad we got around to it. I enjoy seeing his illustration work, and I really enjoyed chatting with him and hearing his responses to these questions. Emberley, the son of legendary illustrator Ed Emberley, has been illustrating since 1979. He was born and raised in Massachusetts but now makes his home in Ireland, near Dublin. (I highly recommend taking time to read this page of his site, where he talks about why he started illustrating and why he decided to stick with it: “I began illustrating because I needed money, but now I truly appreciate what I do. I can keep myself from being bored by doing a variety of book projects and using different techniques. This is more difficult than mastering one style but it is the only way for me.”)

His work has been described as “an unassuming wonder” and “a playful masterclass in using the page.” His vivid characters leap off the page, and his loose-line watercolors communicate a spontaneity and energy that is infectious. His artwork also communicates the great warmth of family and friends; pictured at the top of this post is but one example of this, an illustration from 2008’s Mail Harry to the Moon, written by Robie Harris. And Emberley’s never been one to let gender stereotypes get in the way of his boy and girl protagonists; he had that covered well before it became PC to let such a thing happen.

When I asked him about breakfast, I got a hearty response:

Hey! My favorite meal of the day! Okay. If writing early morning, good coffee and pastry in a café. If heading off cycling, add granola yoghurt and fruit or a ‘fry,’ if I need something extra. (A “fry” here in Ireland means [vegetarians, read no further]: sausage, rashers (thick bacon), eggs, black and white pudding (blood sausage), grilled tomato (pronounced toe-mah-toe), and a farl (potatoe pancake) if you’re up north. All on the same plate.)

A fry it is then. (Hey! If I don’t like it, well … it’s only a pretend cyber-breakfast.) And lots of coffee, of course.

Oh, and guess what? Michael shares below something he’s been thinking about doing for a while — a complete, single-scrolling image of all the sketches for one book. They are from Barbara Bottner’s Miss Brooks’ Story Nook, published last year. “I didn’t dare count them,” he told me. “Hundreds. It’s never been on any of my blogs or Facebook.” That is at the very bottom of this post.

I thank him for visiting 7-Imp.

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Michael: Definitely both. I’m an illustrator first, but I’m trying to get better at writing more “books without pictures.” But even when writing a novel, my mind is full of images — a theatre with sets and scenes, costumes and colored lights, players and performances. As I draw a picture book character, I hear them speaking. As I write about a middle grade character, I see their eyes. They’re real to me.

Pictured below: Sketch pages of different early ideas for Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (Knopf, 2014). See even more sketches in this 2014 7-Imp post.

 





Pictured below: More sketches for Miss Brooks’ Story Nook, followed by a piece of final art. These were Michael’s “wish for a gruesome end to Billy by a Missy-conjured snake. None were accepted for final art. Notice even the final composition in the scene of the snake confronting Billy. I played around with different morphs of Missy into her imaginary snake. My idea of her turning into her creation can be seen in the sequential scene in the final book art where a close-up of her face/eyes is clearly becoming reptile, and then the snake becomes more a morph of her scarf (look at the color stripes and tail), but my original idea—using a half-Missy, half-snake head, though a more logical extension of the “snake eyes” sequence—was ultimately rejected. It’s all subjective in fantasy.”





” … which is exasperating boys like YOU.”
(Click to enlarge)


 

Pictured below: “Development of another hard-to-visualize concept of Billy being a yoke on Missy’s neck. Some things come out first draft with very little change in final art.”

 



Pictured below: An unused concept for the neighbor’s basement:

 



 

Pictured below: Lion sketches:

 



 

Pictured below: Ideas for Missy in her raincoat. Not used. “Note the skull pattern, expressing her less than stereotypical ‘girlie’ nature.”

 




 

Pictured below: Some final art from the book:

 



(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)


 



(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)


 



(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)


 

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date? (If there are too many books to list here, please list your five most recent illustrated titles or the ones that are most prominent in your mind, for whatever reason.)

Michael: Yikes. Lots. I could list them, but it’s not nearly as impressive a list compared to what others have done. You can look at my website.

Unfortunately, I like to live life rather than spend it all in the studio. This will ultimately limit the number of books I finish, I guess. You can only do so much. I try not to be too hard on myself, but I usually feel I’m not working hard enough. The question is: What do I want to do with the finite time I’ve got?

 






 

Jules: What is your usual medium?

Michael: Line, as I said, first and foremost. Preferably pencil. Sometimes pen. Occasionally brush and ink. [As for] color: Mostly liquid watercolor, but also dry pastel. If I could get away with just a pencil, I’d be happy. I’m experimenting with using digital color.

 





(Click each to enlarge)


 

Jules: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Michael: I’ve illustrated for young and old. Fiction and non-fiction. I love all ages. I wish I could draw for everyone. I do as much drawing making cards and notes for adults as I do for kids. I do a comic strip for my local coffee shop. It’s fun seeing people smile. I rarely get that from the book industry. I work so remotely from that whole world.

 


(Click to enlarge)


 

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Michael I’ve lived on the east coast and west coast of the USA (Boston, Oakland, San Diego) but now live in a small village on the east coast of Ireland, near the Irish Sea. We’re just south of Dublin, so we’re in the city a lot, too. It’s a beautiful spot for cycling (my other life) and close to trains and an airport shuttle. It’s getting too pricey, though, so my lovely Irish wife Mel and I may be forced to move soon. An artist is always being chased away by gentrification. My life has been pretty nomadic — at least 20 pillows so far.

 






(Click each to enlarge)


 

Jules: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Michael: Short story: My father was/is in the biz (Ed Emberley). He worked at home. I did odd stuff for him when I still lived there. A series of sketches I did for a drawing book he was working on was a failure, because it looked less like his work than he wanted, but instead of throwing it out, he suggested I take it away and make it into a stand-alone book for myself. Clever way of getting me to pay my way I took it in to my father’s editor, the kindly John Keller, and he said, “Let’s go!” I was 19 and never looked back. [That was] Dinosaurs! A Drawing Book, 1979.

 



 

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Michael: http://www.michaelemberley.com/.

 



(Click each to enlarge)


 

Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Dan: They’re less about me and all about the prep that the school, teachers, librarians, and parents put into the visit. The more they put in, the better the kids are prepared, and the better it goes for everyone. I’m pretty good with the kids. I’m a kid myself. I can be very silly. I draw a lot. Most people like that.

But if they have no idea who you are or why you’re there, it’s like climbing Everest. Everyone loses. I should do more visits. But no one knows me here in Ireland. Very few of my books are sold here. My publishers claim the Irish don’t want my books. What can you do? I enjoyed visiting a tiny school in Co. Mayo recently. I got them rapping with me to one “You Read to Me” book. They’re so funny.

One thing I can say is I stopped prepping for specific audiences long ago, because I was blind-sided so many times with either a completely different age group or topic than I was told. Or it’s teens and five-year0olds in the same room. You have to think on your feet and read the vibe going on. I’ve done some seriously bad talks — and great ones. Worst was an ALA author breakfast years ago. I bombed. Best was my last U.S. gig – in Rhode Island, I think. The kids were great and, therefore, so was I. We all won.

 






Illustrations from Barbara Bottner’s Miss Brooks Loves Books!
(and I don’t)
(Knopf, 2010)


 

Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Michael: Oh boy. Tons of stuff. I’ve taken time out this past year, making a big lunge back towards writing after mainly illustrating for several years. I’m writing for all ages. I have stuff for YA down to picture books. I have at least 15 manuscripts on the go. Yikes! I know: Focus on one, right? I’m working on that. But I’m too excited. I have so many books I want to do.

And I love all my new characters! Does that sound silly? I sincerely hope I can learn to write well enough so others will “meet” them and enjoy their company as much as I do. That sounds trite, but who cares? It’s true.

 






Michael: “These are Mom sketches from a book I’m doing now. These were nixed for publication. Only the [Mom at the doorframe] is in the current dummy.”


 

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, we’ve got more coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Michael again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Michael

: Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of sketching. I seem to do more and more as years go by. Loads of it done in coffee shops. I’ll use pencil, but since it smudges if you draw on the opposite page, I only use the right-hand pages. When I get to the end, I turn the sketchbook upside down and draw on those pages in pen. Hey, paper is expensive.

I do quite a bit of direct sketching on type layouts too. Impulsive ideas first — inventing the characters, their clothing, hairdos, and expressions. You know, the cast and performance of the play. I might add a few backgrounds. I only explore color in the finals, unless there is a color idea that dominates the scene.

I did this alphabet book with Barbara Bottner with 26 different kids and one teacher. I created 27 distinct individuals that moved through the book. Then I played them out. That was work. Lots of sketchbooks were filled on that one.

 






(Click each to enlarge)


 

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Michael

: My workspace is wherever I am. I worked in a classic sixth floor factory building loft studio in Boston for ten years; in second bedrooms; in my own bedroom; in a closet-like space, like the one I’m renting at the moment. I make do. I get on with it.

My fantasy would be a bigger, well-lit, more open space to lay things out. A picture book is a whole, not discrete pieces. It’s great to see it all at once. But I can’t afford that kind of space right now. You make do. I’m writing this interview in my local pub. But maybe that’s an Irish thing.

 




(Click each to enlarge)


 

3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Michael

: My influences are few as a reader. I did not read much fiction as a kid, sorry to say. Mrs. Bowman read us Dahl in 3rd grade, and I loved it. I was forced to read things beyond my age and hated them, like Melville’s Billy Budd in 5th grade. That said, I loved all of Richard Scarry, Charles Shulz comics, and Charles Harper books.

 



(Click each to enlarge)


 

4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Michael: I like lots of people’s work. But it’s hard to know who would be a good dinner guest if I haven’t met them. A lousy artist might be great craic, and a brilliant one might only be good for, as a friend once described, “a couple of grim pints.” But it is nice to sit down with a fellow book person and not have to explain what you do the whole night.

I admire many people’s work and do occasionally wonder if they are anywhere near as interesting as their art/writing. “My authors” are all good craic. I met author Barbara Bottner at a gig once, and whether she believed me or not, I was a huge fan of her book, Bootsie Barker Bites. And I can tell you, she ain’t boring. It’s great to be doing books with her. Mary Ann Hoberman and her husband Norm are great dinner partners. My friends Robie Harris and her husband Bill are always great around the table.

[Pictured below: Art from Mary Ann Hoberman’s Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart

(Little, Brown, 2012). Read more about it here.]

 


– From Theodore Roethke’s “Dinky”


 


“Nancy Hanks” by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benét


 


“Mary Middling” by Rose Fyleman, “A Frog in a Well Explains the World”
by Alice Schertle, and “Bat Patrol” by Georgia Heard

(Click to enlarge spread and read poems)


 


If-ing” by Langston Hughes and “Things” by Eloise Greenfield
(Click to enlarge spread and read poems)


 



 

I like work I don’t imagine non-artists can truly appreciate to the same degree as another illustrator would. Brian Karas is a quiet genius. Ditto Ana Juan; Frida is a fantastic. I love Raúl Colón, Marla Frazee, and Jon Klasssen’s stuff is gorgeous. That tree house book — wow. Ed Young, the Dillons. Jim Kay’s work in A Monster Calls is one of the best things I’ve ever seen.

I love stuff I’ve seen from Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and eastern Europe. I’m in love with stuff that won’t sell in the U.S. I would love to publish in Poland or someplace like that. France would be impossible to break into, but they have amazing children’s book illustrators. Japan too. Gorgeous stuff. The U.S. book-buyer can be too, uh, American, sometimes. Too limited in their tastes. There is a big world out there beyond the bright lights.

I love the comic/graphic novelists coming out of Europe and the U.S. They might be good for a laugh over a glass.

I want to talk to someone who sees no boundaries between art, science, religion, and philosophy. I like thinkers and dreamers. I like smart — but not at the expense of wonder. I like talking to people who teach me things but don’t lecture. I like people who can skip between genres and genders, fact and fiction, pain and persuasion. Someone who can stay off their phone. Someone funny and kind. If they are an artist, so much the better. But the creative arts is no secret passport to the land of interesting company. (Sounds like a personal ad!)

Writers? Hmmm. Too many. Short list:

Okay. That’s more than three, isn’t it?

 


(Click to enlarge)


 

5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Michael: Tons of stuff. I listen all the time. All styles. Mostly when doing art. Writing is problematic with most music. But I write in noisy coffee shops with background music, so it’s possible. For example, West African is okay, since I don’t speak the lingo. Mainstream stuff — Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour, etc. Puccini is nice, too, sometimes.

Random thoughts on music that’s sticking in my head recently:

Gillian Welch, “Everything’s Free.” Haunting song. And what better lament for the world of pre-internet/free content. I’m paraphrasing her lyrics here:

Everything is free now / That’s what they say / Everything I’ve ever done, They’re gonna give it away. … If there’s something that you wanna hear / you can sing it yourself.

I also keep listening to this acoustic version of Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.” I never listened to him before, and I’m not a groupie. But these lyrics, though, won’t go away. Paraphrasing again:

… it’s a looong walk from your front porch to my front seat / the door’s open, but the ride, it ain’t free.

I can see that grey wooden porch floor, feel the chasm between the screen door and the open car door. The gulf between what she knows and what could be waiting for her. The tremendous courage it takes to cross that porch, to imagine another future for herself. It kills me every time.

Eddi Reader. Check out the video “What You Do With What You’ve Got”. Amazing. Try to see this Scottish original live, singing her version of Robby Burns’ “Ae Fond Kiss.” And try not to feel it. This verse:

Had we ne’er loved so kindly
Had we ne’er loved so blindly,
Nor ne’er met, Nor ne’er parted,
We would ne’er been so broken-hearted.

Ah, as a Czech friend of mine once said, “Melancholy is best emotion.”

I admit I love Elvis Costello’s lyrics. Random lines I remember (some may be off):

“She threw her hands up, like a tulip…”
“They’re mopping up all the stubborn ones who just refuse to be saved.”
“He’s planting a paperback book for accidental purchase, containing all the secrets of life, and other useless things.”

Canadian Holly Cole has this amazing album of Tom Waits covers. Another great writer. Love the “doorknob” lyric in “Falling Down”:

Everyone knew that old hotel was a goner. … They broke all the windows, and took all the doorknobs, and they hauled it away in a couple of days. …

Also Cole’s other cover album with this song-lyric by Patty Larkin:

He said: ‘I read the Bible every day,
Just to keep the demons at bay,
Thank God when the sun goes down,
I don’t blow away.’

And one more: Lori McKenna‘s “Stealing Kisses.” Poignant “housewife drama”:

I was stealing kisses from a boy,
And now I’m begging affection from a man…
Don’t you know who I am?
I’m standing in your kitchen.


 




Illustration and covers for two of Emberley’s books
with Robie Harris (read more here)


 

6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Michael: Well, most people who know me know this, but I am a competitive athlete when I’m not at the desk. Cycle racing has been my ‘thing’ since the late ’70s. It’s unusual in my experience for artists or writers to be athletic or competitive, and vice versa. I actually know no one who is in both worlds. A lot of artists/writers live in their heads all the time, come out at night, and they’re pretty neglectful or out of touch with their bodies.

The racing is a good balance for me. You can think out there. Mostly it’s training on back roads, wandering around, wind in your ears, a Zen thing, shutting down your “busy mind.” But racing itself is different. Aggressive, intense, clawing up hills, screaming down, diving into a sharp bend with people at each elbow. The pain, the exhaustion, the fear. Moving at high speed is an entirely different way of seeing the world than being in a chair.

 


Michael: “This is the kind of thing I do for books, as well as cards and letters. These self-portraits were done really fast one after the other on the holiday card envelopes of friends, family, etc. (I used to draw the recipient, but that gets you into a lot of trouble. Easier to pan yourself.) This shows how different each take can be. I do this for book characters as well, until I see the one I like. If this were a book,
I have two favorites here. The rest are trash.”


 

7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Dan: How does the way artists are perceived in society inform your decision to become an artist? Or: Why are you really doing this? No, I mean, really?

I grew up in a household with a professional artist. That’s my perspective. I saw the great Oz from the back first. Great artists seem to come from both great resistance and great encouragement. But it’s something you learn and earn, not get by faith or are born with. I think there’s too much mystery, awe, and romance surrounding artists and writers that they haven’t earned and, frankly, isn’t good for them. It does us no favors. It sets us apart, instead of bringing us together. Creatives all too often either marginalized or put on a pedestal by society.

Here in Ireland, the attitude is pretty balanced: You’re given a comfortable chair, but no pedestal. That’s good. Pedestals are to knock people off of.

My pet peeve on the topic of the “artist’s life” is people who are writing or drawing so they can just “be the thing,” wrap themselves in the label Artist or Writer. Being an artist is just a name, a part of creating art, not the other way round. The goal is the work, not the label.

There are people who hold onto this thing they imagine an artist to be — some adolescent fantasy born from years of too much dreamy misinformation, like wanting to be a princess as a little child. To be famous—a celebrity—with the added thrill of being photographed, signing a hardbound book with your name on it. Jaysus feck. That’s the pinnacle of an adolescent dream, imagining being asked for their autograph.

Okay, I’d like to see art and writing and creative expression in general as something more acceptable and more readily available to a broader segment of the population. It’s a means of self-exploration and consolation — and generally enhances your life.

But that’s not professional art. There’s a difference. Professional art is work. You need to train for it, learn it, and hopefully get paid for it. It’s not something you do “if you only had the time.”

You wouldn’t expect anyone who likes to spin around in circles and likes how they look in a tutu to join the Bolshoi Ballet.

I think people should be asked more often why are they honestly doing it.

Pictured below: Thumbnails and early sketches from Barbara Bottner’s An Annoying ABC (Knopf, 2011).

 



Jacket thumbnails


 


Final sketch for book jacket


 


(Click to enlarge)


 








Above: Sketches
(Click each to enlarge)



 



Color sketches


 



 

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Michael: “Balance.”

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Michael: “Hate.”

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Michael: Kindness.

Jules: What turns you off?

Michael: Bullies.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Dan: “Me bollocks!”

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Michael: An Irish accent.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Michael: Loud, mechanical things at 7 a.m.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Michael: Theatre.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Michael: Foreclosure.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Dan: “Forgive yourself.”

 

Reminder: Below is a complete, single-scrolling image of all the sketches for Barbara Bottner’s Miss Brooks’ Story Nook, published last year.

 



 

All images are used by permission of Michael Emberley.

AN ANNOYING ABC. Copyright © 2011 by Barbara Bottner. Illustration © 2011 Michael Emberley. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. Images reproduced by permission of Michael Emberley.

FORGET-ME-NOTS: POEMS TO LEARN BY HEART. Copyright 2012 by Mary Ann Hoberman. Illustrations copyright 2012 by Michael Emberley. Spreads reproduced with permission of the publisher, Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown and Co., New York.

MISS BROOKS LOVES BOOKS! (AND I DON’T) Text copyright © 2010 by Barbara Bottner. Illustrations copyright © 2010 by Michael Emberley. Spread reproduced by permission of the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY.

MISS BROOKS’ STORY NOOK (WHERE TALES ARE TOLD AND OGRES ARE WELCOME!). Text copyright © 2014 by Barbara Bottner. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Michael Emberley. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. Images reproduced by permission of Michael Emberley.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, copyright © 2009 Matt Phelan.

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24. Globe-Hopping with the Lewins

As children we were both fascinated by a book called I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson. It’s about her and her husband Martin’s travels to wild places around the world. We both aspired to their kind of life, and our childhood dreams came true. Our book is the culmination of all our travels. … We wanted to make this a true representation of what it felt like to be in these places. It would be less than honest if we made all our adventures look like a piece of cake.”

* * *

Over at Kirkus today, I talk to Betsy and Ted Lewin, pictured here, about their new book, How to Babysit a Leopard: And Other True Stories from Our Travel Across Six Continents (Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook, June 2015). That link will be here soon.

Next week, I’ll have a few of the watercolors from the book.

Until tomorrow …

* * * * * * *

Photo of the Lewins used by their permission.

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25. SDCC ’15 Interview: Mark Russell talks Prez, Politics, and Taco Drones

Prez #1

Prez #1

By Harper W. Harris

Of all the new DCYou titles that have come out so far, Prez by Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell may be my favorite. It takes a sharp, satirical look at the future and the American political process in a way that is a bit shocking to see in a DC comic book. Although the title and concept is an older one from the early ’70s, Beth Ross is a brand new Prez for a new generation. I got a chance to sit down with Mark Russell and talk about the origin of his version of Prez and the darkly hilarious future he presents in the new series.

 

Harper W. Harris: In Prez #1, you have a lot of really smart and really funny ideas about the future that you put forth. How did you decide what ideas or concepts you wanted to exaggerate for that future, and did you do any research to pull that together?

Mark Russell: Well, I think the things that I really like really take a lot of time to build the world in which they exist, so I spent a lot of time thinking about the world before I even started writing stories about Prez. So a lot of the things that I decided to populate it with were sort of nascent technologies that we have now that I see either dark things they could be used for in the future, or things that are used for dark things now that I think could be made to serve people better in the future. So it was literally a critique on how we’re misusing technology and people now, and I figured I would just extrapolate ways in which things could be further abused or how we could change the way these technologies and humans are treated in the future.

HH: You’ve got a lot of experience with satire in the past particularly with religious satire in God is Disappointed in You. How did you turn your eye to political satire, and how has that differed for you so far?

MR: I think my worldview can best be described as irreverence, which I see as a breed of honesty. I don’t revere anything enough that I won’t look at its flaws, but I don’t hate anything enough that I can’t see its virtues. So that’s the sort of prism I want to turn on to anything I’m writing about. In terms of politics, the only thing that really was different from God is Disappointed in You was the research I was doing, and the opinions I have about the world and the direction it’s going is formed by recent history. But otherwise it’s exactly the same beast.

Beth becoming the infamous Corndog Girl

Beth becoming the infamous Corndog Girl

HH: A lot of your past work has been in prose form, or with single panel cartooning. How has working with Ben Caldwell been, and with working in a more sequential art form?

MR: I have to think a lot more visually as opposed to writing something as exposition or having the character say something, I can actually show it in the panel, which is really liberating. It’s really helped me to start thinking in those terms. Plus, Ben comes up with a lot of great background details and stuff, so a lot of times he will come up with something that will inspire me to write a line of dialogue that addresses it. Like one of my favorite things that he’s drawn so far is in issue one when Beth is working at the corndog place. I just put in my notes, “the employees are wearing ridiculous costumes.” But what he came up with were these people wearing these like dachshund hats. So I actually started incorporating lines about the hats in future issues–she doesn’t want to give up her hat after she becomes president. She has to go back to the corndog place and ask for an advance on her paycheck even after she becomes president, and they’re like, “What do you care, you’re the president?” Well yeah, but they don’t pay until the end of the month. So it’s the kind of thing you have to think about when you’re a teenager working at a corndog place, even if you are the commander in chief. You gotta make it until payday.
HH: Very nice! So let’s actually talk about Beth a bit. When you starting work on the book and getting ideas for it, how did you decide to make Prez a totally new character from the original Prez, and how do you feel she’s different?

MR: I wanted to do a very different comic book than the original Prez. I think that the original Prez was more relevant for the early ’70s–it was about that they thought youth culture was about to take over the world now that 18 year olds could vote, and we’re in very different world now. We’re in a world where youth culture has largely failed, where the government and politics are largely controlled by elites and non-egalitarian forces. So I wanted to do a comic that was about this political reality, and to make that separation as cleanly as possible I wanted to come up with a completely different character in as many ways as possible from the original Prez Rickard. Although, I will say, Prez Rickard does show up as a character in the new Prez: he’s super old, in his 70s, and he’s a failed wunderkind from the past. He did not become president in my world, but he is there. I wanted it to be a very different comic about a very different time in American history.

HH: So yeah, you see the original Prez as being about youth culture having failed…do you think now that’s a thing that’s changed, an idea that holds more water?

MR: I think in a way, youth culture is far more threatening or promising now than it was in the early ’70s because it’s transcending politics. It’s more about recreating the world using technologies and social media that was inconceivable back then. As enlightened as the hippies may have been, they still had to work within the media and social paradigms of their time, they still had to somehow get on television. They still had to spread their message through the mass media. That’s no longer the case: social media the youth movement and millennials to completely create their own culture independently of what the people who own the means of communication can channel them into.

Prez #2

Prez #2

HH: So it’s a matter of different channels and different tools that they have available to them, okay. So another thing that’s really different about your Prez story is that most of the early stories are really short. How did you hit on 12 issues, and how do you plan to expand that world into a longer form story?

MR: The 12 issues is what DC originally came up with because it will take us up to the 2016 election and they figured there was going to be more interest in political satire because of the election. But I’m really starting to think of it as two six-issue long story arcs, which is good because it’s not like a bad ’30s radio serial drama, it gives me room to world build and to have side stories that really make the universe or Prez come alive in a way that I couldn’t if I had to do a succinct complete story every single issue. Plus I think that single issue approach lends itself to impossibility–like in this one he’s fighting vampires, and the next one he’ll be boxing a gorilla. Whereas if you have a few issues to take your time and tell a story, you can deal with the complexities of real life and real politics.

HH: So tell us a little more about the format of how you’re going to approach it; you said you’re breaking it into two six-issue arcs, will each issue deal with specific idea, or is it more building towards the ends of those two stories?

MR: Both. Each one has its own sort of unique issue. Issue one was largely just about introducing the characters, issue two is about the absurdity of the electoral process. There’ll be an issue about drone warfare…but at the same time they are all advancing the central plot about Beth coming to power and becoming a seasoned politician and able president because she has the two assets that no other president in history has had: she doesn’t owe a lot of favors–she doesn’t have to pay people back for their support–and she’s not a product of the system. She hasn’t learned what she can’t do, so to her there’s no reason to believe that she can’t do anything she comes up with.

Everyone's new favorite form of fast food: Taco Drone

Everyone’s new favorite form of fast food: Taco Drone

HH: Looking at Prez #1, it’s a very dark and messed up world you’ve presented us with, and like you said we’re going to see how Beth comes to power and deals with those things. So all-in-all, when the series is done, do you think the story is a more optimistic or cynical one?

MR: I want it to be an optimistic story. I think you have to paint a portrait of what’s wrong with the world before you can say what should be done. But if you don’t say what should be done, or you don’t have opinions about ways in which the world could be better, then what’s the point? Otherwise you’re just moaning, you know?

HH: Last question: where can I get a taco drone? I’m kinda hungry…

MR: I’m working on one in my garage. The taco is coming along much better than the drone right now, but I’ll let you know.

 

 

Prez #1 is on stands now, with issue two of the twelve issue series coming out on 7/22.

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