By Wes Jones
I reviewed Brain Shoodles earlier this week with a perfect score. Needless to say I really enjoyed it. Writer/Artist Emily B. Owen was nice enough to sit down and answer a few questions about herself and her new book.Read More
I reviewed Brain Shoodles earlier this week with a perfect score. Needless to say I really enjoyed it. Writer/Artist Emily B. Owen was nice enough to sit down and answer a few questions about herself and her new book.Read More
Full disclosure: Comic Bastards is a sponsor for Ghost City Comic Competition and will be reviewing the winners picked by a panel of judges. For more information, please visit Ghost City Comics.
I had a chance to interview Michael Ruiz-Unger and Tucker Tota about their Ghost City Comic Competition that’s currently running. You’ll also be able to hear me on their podcast in production talking about the site. It’s a little cross promotion, but the goal is the same, to give information about the other. On their podcast, you’ll hear about what makes Comic Bastards tick, and in this interview, you’ll get some background information on the first indie comic competition.Read More
By Zeb Larson
An interview with the creators of Apama: The Undiscovered Animal.Read More
Karl Slominski is a weird dude. Karl Slominski is a guy who loves to make comics more than anything else and has dedicated his life to do so. A Kubert School graduate, he has worked on several beloved indie titles like Golgotha, a book about a man addicted to drugs and H.P. Lovecraft is on the hunt for the people who have exhumed his corpse. Karl also lent his talents for Ashes, a comic about a NY firefighter relearning how to approach his career after a traumatic experience where he loses a leg. And being part of the DC/IDW Comic Book Anthology Love Is Love, to honor the victims of the horrific Orlando attacks, he will join the superstar names like Patton Oswalt, Phil Jimenez, Olivier Coipel. Karl Slominski knows three things really well and has them on his business card. Noise. Paint. Love.Read More
Kim Andersson’s Alena really took me by surprise. Knowing as little as I do about Swedish comics and the Swedish scene, having this incredibly nuanced and disturbing horror story seemingly burst on the scene really stuck with me. I chatted with Kim Andersson about Alena, making comics in Sweden, and his upcoming book for Dark Horse, Astrid. Kim is going to be at New York Comic-Con. You can view his Facebook group here https://www.facebook.com/kimwanderssoncomics.
Kim Andersson: Funny thing about Swedish comic scene is that it is more women than men…dun dun dun (laughs). At least 50/50, but it could be more women than men. The alternative scene in Sweden really exploded, and the feminist comics got really big in Sweden, like outside the comics scene. It got high-brow cultural attention. Some of those creators have made a place for themselves that way. It started out punk, it still looks punk, but the highbrow cultural establishment likes that.
ZL: That’s pretty different from this country.
KA: Yeah it is, isn’t it. What you would consider alternative comics, black and white, a bit more crudely drawn, is the mainstream. What I do, is like genre comics, a lot of horror and now sci-fi, that is the alternative. The superhero comics scene… I don’t think there is one in Sweden. Marvel and DC are just film studios. Swedes all speak English; if you’re a comic book nerd, you read American comics. And superheroes are such an American thing…
ZL: Where did Alena come from?
KA: The book came out of a bunch of comics in a monthly comic book magazine called NEMI and every issue I did like a short comic called Love Hurts. I had done them for a few years, I had mad one collection, one book, and it was time for my new to level up and have a new challenge, a graphic novel. Through that comic book, I had gathered a bit of a following of readers, and they were almost exclusively teenage girls. Goth and emo teenage girls. The best kind of fans you can have: so cool, so dedicated. I’ve always done exactly the kind of comics I want to read, so I guess I’m a goth girl at heart.
I wanted to make a graphic novel, and I wanted to make something for my fans. Not that I owed them, but I liked them, and I wanted to give them something more than a dark humor, scary comic, but a proper piece of work. So I worked on it for years, several years, like with my left hand, and finally, I decided to start, and it was published in this magazine called NEMI, serialized in eight episodes. And then it came out as a book, in 2012 I think. I remember the first review I got from it, a Swedish comic blog, and the headline was “Lesbian horror comic.” I mean, I guess it could be about that? I was more into the idea of a queer idea of their sexuality being more fluid.
All of these characters are me, of course. I’ve been asked why I always draw female characters. I have several answers, but one of them is that it’s easy to hide behind. This is a story about young people, and young boys aren’t allowed to show their emotions. If I want to write about feelings, it’s easier to do it as a girl. In my head, I put on a skirt, and I can declare my emotions in another way.
The different characters in Alena… I actually kind of fell in love with the villain. It’s not that uncommon as a writer. Your villain tends to be the more interesting character. I like how she turned out, and I like how she turned out in the movie. I think that’s the hardest part in the movie.
ZL: Your view of adolescence seems to be dark, at best. Were your teenage years' anything like this?
KA: Everyone has some hard experiences growing up. It’s not easy for anyone; you try things, and things happen to you for the first time, and everything is very dramatic and high-stakes. I wasn’t bullied myself, not regularly, but I had some experiences of feeling bullied or being bullied. Everyone can relate to being bullied; it’s very common, unfortunately. It’s inspired by my life, but it’s inspired by my thoughts and ideas of growing more than personal experience.
But actually, there’s one scene in the book and the movie as well, and that’s the shower scene… it’s rapey. I shouldn’t sugarcoat it; it’s rape. And that comes from a personal experience. It wasn’t in the script at first; I just needed it in an otherwise boring chapter of the book. I told my colleague this story about when I was growing up, and we were like a gang, and in my gang, there were these girls who were so fucking mean, and they ruled the school and their class. They invited me and a friend of mine to watch them get dressed after PE, and I guess they were confident and wanted to show off their bodies. All the other girls in that class had to just accept it; they couldn’t do anything. We just sat there like teenage boys thinking this is the coolest, but that experience stuck with me, and as I got older I started thinking about all the other people in that room and how they experienced that situation, and why those girls invited us. The whole rape thing wasn’t there, but it comes from that personal experience. I think that people can find themselves in that situation, but can’t explain it, so that’s why I put it in the comic: to try and understand why they did this, and why I didn't do anything to stop it. Even if the book contains all of this violence, that’s the scene that affects people the most. Your brain starts to run away from you when you read it. I’m not very interested in doing it again, and I felt like, “Wow, this is a really sad person who wrote this book.” It was very important for me to write it, and I worked through a lot of stuff writing, and I’m very happy I did, and now I don’t have to do it again.
ZL: Let’s talk about the influences of Alena for a built. I picked up overtones of Stephen King pretty strongly, but madness seemed to be at the root of all of this as well. What past stories were important to you as you were writing this book?
KA: Carrie was the big one. I haven’t actually read the book, but I’ve seen the movie a hundred times. It’s almost an embarrassingly big influence on this book. Definitely Stephen King, that one is really big for me. And I was interested in the whole Tyler Durden Fight Club idea way of telling a story. As far as comic books, I’m a huge fan of the Jaime Hernandez; he’s a big influence of mine and got me back into comics. Love and Rockets are absolutely fantastic. It is very film-ic, the storytelling is like a movie. I grew up on horror movies, I’ve seen them all. This one summer when I was 14, we borrowed horror movies from a friend’s older brother, and for one summer, we saw them all. So, I saw them all, well, before 1993, but I guess they all got lodged in my head.
I’ve never thought about this, but I’d done a bunch of horror, and maybe Alena was the one to cap it all off.
ZL: So does all of that exposure to horror sort of explain the tension between insanity as one explanation and the supernatural as another in Alena?
KA: Pretty much, yeah. It was pretty much that mix of horror influences. I tried to cram a lot of stuff into those pages, and I wanted to move through sub-genres of horror, raise questions about whether she was pushed off the bridge or jumped off the bridge.
ZL: I want to talk about the art, which I thought was really strong for this series. The way you frame some of the characters’ faces is powerful because every sneer and grimace seems so exaggerated. How intentional was that?
KA: When I got to France, all the French say “all your comics are very American.” And in a way they are, I grew up on American comics; when I talk to American audiences and creators, they saw that what I do is European. There’s something I find in European comics that I like: they’re very good with expression. Whereas American comics, this might be a bit mean, but they can be very stiff. I think a lot of American comic book art is aiming for realism, and somewhere on the way to realism, they have to stop. It would take forever to draw it otherwise, but I’m not aiming for realism; I’m trying to go in another direction. More expressive than reality.
There’s always been this discussion around comics; why do they look so ridiculous? Especially the women; they have super-thin waists and big boobs, and the creators says “It’s exaggerated, we want to make the story read more easily.” I agree with that idea, but you should exaggerate everything. If it’s a teenager, you exaggerate the teenage-ness of him or her.
ZL: How closely involved were you in the film adaptation?
KA: I was very close to the production. So these guys that the made the movie, the producer, and the director, they’re friends of mine because we work in the same field. We’re kind of a gang, so there’s me, another comic book artist, a couple of authors, they wrote this trilogy of urban fantasy books, the first one is The Circle, The Fire, and The Key. We’re this group of different creators: artists and writers and creators, and we work in each other’s projects. When they made a movie of the Circle, I got to draw design stuff for that movie.
I got to be involved from day one. I didn’t get paid for it, but I wanted to do it. You’ve read about all of these authors who sell their rights and end up buying a ticket to see what was their story? I instead got to work on costumes and locations and scriptwriting. Me and the director made a lot of changes, or the director made a lot of changes, and I got to okay everything. I don’t think I turned down any ideas, though; I was excited to see this updated version of the story. As soon as they started shooting, I kind of stepped back. I’d done my part; I don’t want to be hanging over Daniel DiGrado’s shoulder. It was up to him to make his vision of the story. I do a little cameo.
Now I’m really hoping it goes to Netflix. Netflix is a really good tool for exposing international media, especially to American audiences. Everything is mixed; Swedish movies aren’t in their own genre, which I think makes it more likely people will check them out.
ZL: Can you tell us at all about Astrid and what it’s going to be like? Is it going to be a point of departure from slasher stories?
KA: I just finished the book. It took quite a while to make. This is the next challenge; I try to make a new challenge for every book, to create a comic book character I can make several books with. The first book took a long time to make, because I had to write her universe, but then I finally started drawing, color, and inking it, and that was reasonably quick. I started drawing completely digitally for this book, and that was a new challenge as well. You want to work digitally to save time, but you have to learn how to do so, and it takes time. The screen I’m drawing on is just another time.
I sent it off to Dark Horse a couple of weeks ago, and I’m really proud of it. I wanted to make an adventure like Indiana Jones or that kind of adventure, but where things had consequences. When things happen, people in my story, I want them to feel it and not to forget it in the next scene. I wanted to give them a fantastical adventure in space, on different planets and with aliens, but I want it to matter what they go through and not just be random twists of the plot. They take it with them.
It’s a weird thing make these. I’m an author, which takes forever, and that sucks, but it gives you the opportunity to do exactly the way you want to. Sometimes you can’t, and capturing a feeling on paper can be hard, but I have this idea that the blessing of being an author is that as long as everything comes from you, it’s right. It’s what should be in the story. When you make a story with another person, then there has to be a vision that everyone shares. When a director makes a movie, he makes a vision and has to get everyone on board. When I make a comic as an author, the vision doesn’t have to be clear, and as long as I’m true to myself, it’ll work out. I’m a firm believer in this Joseph Campbell a hero with a thousand faces, and that everyone has the legos to create a story inside them. As long as I follow my heart, it’ll be good.
ZL: And when can we expect to see it in America?
KA: Astrid volume one, Cult of the Volcanic Moon, it’s gonna come out the 30th of November. I’m doing a small print run in Sweden as well and doing a Kickstarter for that, but I made the book for Dark Horse. It’s the third book of mine, but the first I wrote specially for them. I’m looking forward to the next one with them, and that’s what I want to do with them going forward with Astrid. It’s sort of a weird blessing that we don’t make any money; as Becky Cloonan put it, everybody who is working in this is here because they love it, not because it’s a way to make a mortgage. Making a comic with pen and paper can make something as big as I want; I could theoretically create Star Wars, and no one could tell me that my Yoda wouldn’t be 200 meters tall.
Ed Brisson's THE VIOLENT is seeing a TPB release on Wednesday, September 14th. Zeb Larson discusses the series with Ed, some of the political and social significance of the book, Ed's work on CLUSTER, and some of Ed's upcoming work.
ZEB LARSON: What first got you interested in writing The Violent?
ED BRISSON: THE VIOLENT is something that’s been percolating for a long time. It’s a continuation of what I’d been doing in MURDER BOOK and something I’ve wanted to do since penning the first MURDER BOOK story.
I’m a huge crime fiction fan and simply wanted to write the type of crime that I wanted to read. Not stories that are simply about heists or the long con, but of people struggling with who they are and the things that they do. I like reluctant criminals. People struggling with their morality.
EB: Used to. I moved out of Vancouver ten days ago. I’m now living in Kelowna, which is about 400km (250mi) north-east of Vancouver.
I picked Vancouver for several reasons. Firstly, because I live(d) there and always thought that it’d make a great setting.
Being Canadian, you NEVER see stories set where you live. Even when a Canadian writes something that you KNOW is meant to be set in Vancouver, they’ll use Seattle as a proxy instead (or New York for Toronto, etc., ). I was guilty of doing this with COMEBACK.
There’s an idea that American’s won’t read anything that’s not set in the United States -- unless it’s some sort of globetrotting, James Bond-style adventure. Same goes for film. And, I guess, I stubbornly thought: “Fuck that.” I’m going to write stories where I want to see them and hope others will read along.
THE VIOLENT and MURDER BOOK are first-and-foremost, the books that I want to write and what I wanted to see on the racks. I want stories set in Vancouver and no longer give a flying fuck if someone doesn’t want to read something set outside their own country. It’s part of a need to establish ourselves as a viable setting for fiction.Vancouver is an incredibly unique city and the crime we’re going to see there reflects that. This isn’t going to be a New York story transplanted to Vancouver. THE VIOLENT and MURDER BOOK are both very specifically Vancouver stories.
Vancouver is an incredibly unique city and the crime we’re going to see there reflects that. This isn’t going to be a New York story transplanted to Vancouver. THE VIOLENT and MURDER BOOK are both very specifically Vancouver stories.
ZL: The Violent reads like a personal project, especially with the focus on your home city. How has Vancouver shaped your work?
EB: Adding to what I’d mentioned above, Vancouver is where I met a lot of my contemporaries. Before moving there in the late 90s, it was just me and one or two friends in Kelowna trying to do comics without any real connection to a larger creative base. We would connect with some people through the mail and zine/mini-comic trading, but there was no in-person connection.
When I moved to Vancouver, I eventually found myself falling in with a large group of comic creators, and I think that a lot of us fed off one another. For me, and most creatives I’m sure, I’m pushed to do better when I see people around me creating amazing work. I don’t want to be left behind, I guess. I really started pushing myself when I was in Vancouver, which is something that probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed in Kelowna.
That said; obviously, the internet serves that same purpose for a lot of people. Had I started even just a few years later, then I would have probably found that same support on-line -- and, honestly, have since found it. Every day I talk to other writers and comic creators on-line. Writers who live in Calgary, Toronto, Portland, New York, etc.
Aside from the comic community, Vancouver gave me a lot of angst and frustration. The housing crisis is just one thing that fuels me. I’m a father and my wife, and I want to provide a stable home for our kid, which feels impossible to do in Vancouver, where renovictions seem to be the norm. (A “renoviction” is a Vancouver term for getting booted from your home so it can be renovated into a multi-unit home or torn down to make way for condos. Just one of hundreds of stories you can find on it: Link). In six years, we lost two homes to renovictions. At my daughter’s school, I’ve talked to other parents who’ve faced the same, some on their third or fourth renoviction.That’s the selfish part that keeps me going. The anger for something that hits me directly.
That’s the selfish part that keeps me going. The anger for something that hits me directly.
But, Vancouver is also home to one of the poorest and most drug addled areas in all of Canada. The Downtown Eastside is a stark reminder of how we’re failing those most in need of help. It’s a place where a serial killer worked for YEARS undetected. When most people think of Canada, they don’t picture that. It feels disingenuous to not talk about and to not feature it in a book about Vancouver.
ZL: The first issue of this book focused on the real estate investments by foreign investors in Vancouver and how expensive the city has become. Is this story at least partly about the pressures of capitalism in the 21st century?
EB: In a roundabout way, I guess it is. But, primarily it’s meant to be a snapshot of what life is like while trying to survive in present-day Vancouver. What it’s like when investment and money are placed ahead of the needs of citizens.
ZL: Vancouver is one of many cities that are becoming so expensive that the original inhabitants can no longer live there anymore. Is there any hope for these places?
EB: I don’t know. Right now, in Vancouver, the cost of owning a house would require something close to 140% of the average household income. Theoretically, your mortgage should be about 30% of your household income. It’s pretty dire.
The BC government has just removed the ability for the BC’s real estate industry to self-regulate. It’s something that’s overdue, and I’m not sure what good it will do now that most of the damage has been done. I’m not convinced it’s not all for show, but we’ll see.
The government is also introducing new taxes and regulations regarding empty houses owned by foreign investors. That’s something that I think a lot of people outside of Vancouver don’t understand -- there are apparently hundreds (thousands?) of houses that have been bought by foreign investors that are sitting empty. They’re being treated like stocks. They’ll sit for a year or so and then get flipped again with earnings upwards of 35%.
Because you have that much stock taken out of the market, demand on other houses goes up, as do prices. Because the house (and now condo) prices are out of reach for most, you’re pushing people who wouldn’t be in the rental market into it. That then increases the demand for rentals which, of course, increases the cost of rentals.
ZL: There seems to be a central tension in this book between environment and personal responsibility. Was that intentional?
EB: Absolutely. Bad shit doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There’s a reason that neighbourhoods plagued with poverty are also besieged by crime.
After my parents split, we had a lot of money issues in our home. I’ve lived through that stress. I’ve seen how barely scraping by and getting deeper and deeper into debt can really push a person to the brink. I’ve experienced it.
I knew others growing up who had it even worse. And I saw what it did to them and their families.
ZL: What are the long-term plans for the series? (ZEB: Edited this slightly. Turns out the series WILL be continuing with Image, but we’re not ready to announce that just yet. It’ll be coming out in trades and not single issues).
EB: There are a few conversations happening at the moment, but nothing is solid.
What fairly sure about is that we’re going to Kickstart it, probably in October. We’d look to release as single issues (digital only) and trade (print). The Kickstarter will cover the trade costs, which we’re working to figure out right now. We want to make the campaign as inexpensive as possible while ensuring that Adam, Michael, and Tom get paid.
Ideally, we’ll do a minimum of three more arcs this way, with a goal to Kickstart and release one volume per year.
ZL: What else do you want to explore in The Violent? Will it stay in Vancouver?
EB: The second volume is set to take place in Kelowna in the late 80s. We’d been planning for this second arc and the setting before my family, and I decided to move to Kelowna. Some sort of simpatico, I guess.
THE VIOLENT will always be about family, how families impact our lives and the lasting effect of our actions. The second arc will look back at the life of Jesse McPherson and show us things from his childhood that ultimately lead to him becoming a police officer. It’s set in 1986, which is the year that Vancouver hosted Expo 86, which many believe laid a lot of the groundwork for what would eventually lead to the Vancouver housing crisis.
EB: That’s an odd one. The original germ of CLUSTER is something that I’ve been batting around with since I was in high school. Originally, it was going to be a story about a group of bad-ass prisoners who escape prison while on an alien planet. Sort of straight action. But, over the years, it changed up quite a bit until it became what you saw.
A lot of the inspiration for it came from 80s schlock and b-cinema. I’m a huge film fan and growing up; I would plunk myself in front of the TV with a stack of VHS rentals and watch 4 or 5 movies a night (long time insomnia sufferer). I wanted CLUSTER to have that same feel… like an 80s b-movie, but… you know… good.
Damian is the one who really killed it on that front. His designs and world building in CLUSTER were incredible. He’s an insanely versatile artist. I really love working with him.
ZL: One of the ways that I read that story was as a retelling of Euroamericans and settler imperialism: people coming in and taking land from somebody else, while creating a narrative that the land never really belonged to anybody, to begin with. Was that intentional? If so, what led you down that path?
EB: You’re 100% right in your assessment. It just seems to me that if we were to inhabit other planets, humans would repeat past behavior, no matter how often we may claim that we’ve evolved past it.
ZL: Cluster is another story that takes a look at an ugly side of capitalism: private prisons and private military contractors. What was the idea behind that?
EB: I live in Canada where we have much less privatization than the US. There’s often a push here to privatize health care and prisons, which most understand is a dangerous thing, but greed will always keep pushing. The former head of the Doctors of BC runs a private surgery centre and sued the BC government last year, claiming that residents of BC have the constitutional right to pay for care in private clinics, if they want to circumvent the public system. The public system may not be perfect, but at least it allows everyone access to health care. Those arguing for privatization claim that it’ll ease the pressure on the public system. However, the answer is in better public funding and NOT corporatization. That’s how, in the US, you pay $20 a tablet for Advil when you’re in the hospital.
It’s the same with prisons. When you make it so that investors and shareholders profit from people being IN prison, then you’ve created a system where there’s no incentive to rehabilitate. Your whole model depends on you keeping cells full and profits rolling in. This leads to dialing back on programs for prisoners and even jobs for those tasked with watching prisoners. (Here’s an interesting, though very long, article from the inside of a private prison that I highly recommend: Link).
Anyhow, with CLUSTER, I wanted to focus on a prison system and military that were not only profit driven, but also feeding off of one another. The idea was that with the military feeding from the prisons, the prisons would need a steady supply of warm bodies, which in turn was influencing the court process and the convictions that we’re being handed down for petty crimes. The central idea was largely influenced by the “Kids for Cash” scandal that broke a few years back, where it seemed that a couple of judges in Pennsylvania were getting kickbacks from a private prison for sentencing to harsh, out of step with their crimes, terms in said private prisons.
To be honest, I didn’t really get to delve as deeply into this in CLUSTER as I’d wanted to. I’d planned for the corruption to be revealed and there to be fallout from said corruption. But, we ran out of time.
ZL: The world-building that went into that story was extensive. Will it be continued at any point? If so, what would you like to do with it?
EB: Yeah, I would love to come back and do more CLUSTER.
I think we left it at a good point where we could go back and do more without it feeling like a cash-in. Also helps that I’d had ideas to continue it before we ended it, so already knew where it’d go next.
As to where it’d go and what it would cover, I think I’ll leave that a mystery for now.
ZL: What project comes next?
EB: I’ve got a book brewing at Stela with Damian. It’s a straight crime story called THE BIG IDEA. It’s about a couple roommates who get caught up in a war between two ex-business partner chiropractors. It may sound a little pedestrian, but it’s a lot of fun.
Other than that, I’ve got two projects, one of which is a creator-owned book, that are in the works. I’m also writing BULLSEYE for Marvel, which drops in January of 2017. Pretty excited about that. I really love the idea of telling a story from the villain’s perspective and think that people are really going to dig the direction we’re taking it.
Non-comic related, I’m co-writing two feature film scripts. One is with a director who I’ve worked with in the past and the other with a producer who I’ve known for a long time. Can’t say too much about these either, but can say that both are based on MURDER BOOK stories.
Becky Cloonan's SOUTHERN CROSS is about to start its second arc on Wednesday, September 14th. Zeb Larson asks Becky some questions about where the series is headed in this new arc as well as a few questions about the new PUNISHER arc she's been working on, and the music that she's been listening to lately. ZL: I really enjoyed the sort of “Gothic Horror” angle in the first volume of Southern Cross: the unstable protagonist, the ghostly mystery, even the bizarrely configured ship that is more like a labyrinth. Are we going to see more of that in the second arc?
We all know Planet of the Apes. Or at least we all know its twist ending, we all hate the Tim Burton remake, and we all have mixed feelings about the James Franco one. We also all know Tarzan. Dark Horse Comics in collaboration with Boom! Studios present the first ever crossover between the two franchises in Tarzan on the Planet of Apes. Where the creative team of David Walker (Power Man and Iron Fist), Tim Seeley (Revival) and Fernando Dagnino (Suicide Squad) bring to answer just how you unite the 1960s dystopia science fiction of Planet of the Apes with the colonial pulp fiction origins of Tarzan. David Walker was gracious enough to talk with us about his love for Planet of the Apes and just how you go about presenting Tarzan for a modern age.
Patrick Larose: You’ve talked in the past about important and influential a series Planet of the Apes was for you, and I know for me, growing up, it was so surprising how malleable and weird the original film series was and how many different kinds of stories they were telling. What was it that made it stick with you for so long?
David Walker: I saw those films when I was very young, which is to say that I saw them back before the original Star Wars came out. Planet of the Apes was my Star Wars – it grabbed hold of my imagination, and never let go. A lot of people don’t realize (or remember), that before the ancillary marketing craze of Star Wars, with the toys and the comics a the trading cards, there was Planet of the Apes. So, here you had these movies that lit the fire of my imagination, and then all this other stuff that fueled the fire. I owned all the POTA comics, I read them over and over again, and it was through this series that I was introduced to the principles of storytelling. This was a huge part of leading me down the path of what I would grow up to be.
PL: Nighthawk is such a phenomenal, poignant take on so many troubling events and topics going on right now like police violence and systematic oppression. Given how strong your commentary was there, for those following your writing here, what part of society are you interested in highlighting with this story?
DW: Tim Seely and I, along with our editor Scott Allie, really talked about what it was we were trying to say with this series. The original POTA films were all statement movies, and all of them were pretty dark and grim. We knew all of this going in, and we knew that if there was going to be any “truth” or credibility to the Apes side of the story, it had to come from whatever underlying message we put forth. Ultimately, it is a story about defining what it means to have humanity, versus simply being a human. It is about empathy and revenge, and the path we often walk that doesn’t feel like out path, but a path someone has forced us to walk. In the end, we really tried to explore the dangers of “us-versus-them” thinking, and how ideologies can be dangerous if empathy is not present.
PL: Tarzan, as he was created in the early 1900s, is such a character founded in these really problematic tropes like the white savior complex so how do you manage to reinvent him for the modern age? What was your thought process in navigating between the pulp elements that define Tarzan while avoiding those outdated and troubling elements?
DW: I can’t lie, Tarzan was difficult to wrap my head around, and I think it was the same for Tim. Neither of us wanted him to be that white savior trope, wrapped in the tenets of white supremacy, Eurocentric colonialism. For me, I decided to think about how I would write a Tarzan comic that wasn’t a crossover with Planet of the Apes. And like I said, it wasn’t easy. I loved Tarzan as a kid, and there is still a special place in my heart for him, but like James Bond, Tarzan is a hot mess of problematic thinking. Ultimately, the decision was to play around with who and what Tarzan thinks of himself, and how it informs his actions. Our version of Tarzan doesn’t think of himself as human; he is a member of the Mangani tribe of gorillas. He is not the Lord of the jungle here, so much as a confused human who thinks he’s a gorilla. And we play with this because much of this story is about what makes us human, what makes us humane, and what is required to assert and respect humanity.
PL: Given that with this comic, Tarzan is going to have a new backstory and story elements incorporating him more with the Planet of the Apes world, do you still have any plans on addressing any of the more troubling elements of past Tarzan stories? How did you and your co-writer and editor go about incorporating or responding to that Tarzan legacy? Things you went out of your way to avoid like will Tarzan still be going off to rescue a kidnapped Jane?
DW: I want to be careful not to get into great detail, to avoid spoilers. But I will say this—we were very specific about what Burroughs elements we needed to use to make the story work, and what we could leave behind. Tarzan exists in what I’d describe as a very pure form – it’s like we used the most basic elements we needed to define the character, and then we placed that bad boy in the Planet of the Apes. One of the good things about Tarzan is that despite what can be viewed as problematic elements tied to his past – which must be viewed contextually – the character himself has a level of recognition that allows him to be stripped out certain baggage. I mean come on – you show a muscular white guy in a loincloth, surrounded by gorillas, and you know who you’re looking at. Tarzan is so old, and so well established, that it is possible to tell a story about him that isn’t overflowing with all of the things that make the gatekeepers of political correctness cringe.
PL: I think one of the both essential yet troubling aspects of Tarzan is the importance of Africa as a setting. He has to be in the jungle, but there’s no way it can still the gross, outdated place with incomprehensible and bug-eyed natives that Burroughs’ wrote about. Is the story still rooting itself here and what was your process in juggling both it being a Tarzan story slash a story with hyper-intelligent apes and it being a real place far flung from the descriptions of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories?
DW: The answer to that is fraught with spoilers. But I’ll do my best to explain. First, this is an alternate reality that aspects of the Tarzan mythology with aspects of the Planet of the Apes mythology. Creating these kinds of stories is frequently difficult. At the end of the day, this is more of a Planet of the Apes story that stars a very stripped-down version of Tarzan. Tarzan himself may come with all kinds of baggage, but that baggage isn’t part of this story. Some people might say we are cheating, but honestly, all of these franchise crossovers are something of a cheat. One of the great things about the original Tarzan mythology created by Burroughs is the Mangani apes. The Mangani were a crucial part in bringing these franchises together, and in my mind, one of the few parts of the Tarzan world we needed to keep. Again, some people may hate it, and call it cheating. But Tim and I, as well as Scott and his assistant Katii (who were incredibly active in helping shape this story), have done something that I think is entertaining. And the art is phenomenal.
PL: Having grown up with these characters and series, were there any characters here you were really excited to write for and were there any that were off-limits or you couldn’t fit into the story in some way?
DW: Honestly, I had no interest in Jane or anything like that. We were working with a limited amount of space, so there was never any argument about using her. I would have liked to worked a bit more with the Mangani, and character like Kerchak, but they had to limited in who much real estate we gave them. Still, Tim and I both worked really hard to become fluent in Mangani. I was most excited about the Apes characters – which was the main reason I came on board. This project gave me the opportunity to work with characters I absolutely love, and to take them in directions they’ve never gone before, whether it be in film or other comics.
PL: Often in crossover stories there tends to be more about mashing together two identifiable brands in spite of any thematic dissonance. What did you think were some important ideas or themes to preserve from both POTA and Tarzan while exploring new themes in a more 21st-century context?
DW: This the story of two beings raised as brothers – Tarzan and Caesar. One is a human that thinks he’s a gorilla, the other is a chimpanzee trying to lead his tribe to a place of being that defines them as more than mere animals. Tarzan is a human that is more of an animal. Caesar is an animal that is more of a human. That story is playing out every day in our headlines, as various people are robbed of their humanity, and denied various rights. Women are not treated as equals to men. Blacks are not treated as equals to whites. The poor are not treated as equals to the rich. This world, and this society, in particular is engaged in a war of ideology that seeks to define roles of superiority and inferiority, and doing so creates a system of oppression and dehumanization.
PL: Also, just to end this off, what’s your favorite Planet of the Apes movie and what do you think is the Planet of the Apes movie people need to see who have only seen the original?
DW: I love the original 1968 film. My favorites of all the sequels is Conquest. It is the only one of the original films that stands along as a story, and I consider it to be as politically incendiary as Pontecarvo’s anti-colonialist class The Battle of Algier. But more than that, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is both an excellent science fiction film, political allegory, and one of the best films of the 1970s. It is dismissed as such, because of its genre and because it is a sequel, but it is the only other POTA film you can watch without knowing anything about the others.
On September 14th, BOOM! Studios will be releasing a hardcover edition of Toil and Trouble, one of the best mini-series of 2015-2016. Writer Mairghread Scott and artists Kelly and Nichole Matthews were kind enough to let me pick their brains. Check out the interview below. LARAMIE MARTINEZ: Mairghread, the Witches are clearly the main focus of the series, but I noticed you also spend a considerable amount of time on Lady Macbeth and how the loss of her son shaped her perspective. Since there is some debate as to whether or not the play’s version of the character ever had a child, did you deliberately make a choice to have the loss of her child be crucial to the story? Or did you feel like you were expanding what was already in the source material?
MAIRGHREAD SCOTT: I think this is the perfect example of why I wrote Toil and Trouble. The Macbeths have no children in the play Macbeth, but a single line from Lady Macbeth clearly indicates she had one at one point (she mentions nursing a child, which would have been an extremely unlikely thing to do without having given birth). What happened to that child is never stated; its name, its life, how the Macbeths feel about it, none of these facts are said. But the fact that there was a child (who most probably died) changed everything for me.
Now this power-hungry, throat-cutting, “take what you want and screw everyone else” character was a woman who knew first-hand how easy it is for life to rob you blind. Her loss was not sentimental or maudlin; it was vicious, and she used it to justify vicious things.
It’s the exploration of these small details, the “why” behind the “what,” that is at the heart of Toil and Trouble. The witches, the Macbeths, everyone in our story is fighting to overcome things that happened years or even centuries ago. The ones that can do that rise, but the people that can’t become a threat to everyone around them.
LM: Mairghread, you’re an animation writer by trade, do you find a lot of crossover between writing animation scripts and comic scripts? What are some of the differences?
MS: I do find a lot of crossover between the animation I write and comics. Animation, in particular, is a very visually-oriented medium. Otherwise, why bother to pay to animate it? So you learn as an animation writer to focus on what we’re actually seeing and to break up your dialogue with fighting, movement, and impressive visuals that also push your story forward.
The difference between the two is pacing. While animation is about moving images, comics are about still images that suggest movement. They’re the haiku of animation writing. And there’s a big difference between writing a two-page fight in an animation script and distilling a two-page fight down to six or seven images.
Thankfully, Toil and Trouble has an impressive art team like Kelly and Nichole Matthews to work with, though. In animation and in comics, no one actually gets to see very much of my work. It’s in the hands of fantastic artists like the Matthews sisters to turn my hyper-technical descriptions into something you’ll actually want to look at.
LM: Each of the witches feels very distinct in both personality and design. In the story, they also seem to function more like goddesses or the classical Fates. Mairghread, did you have a different mythological inspiration for each character? Or are they more of a hodgepodge from the different sea, air, and land figures from various cultures?
MS: I tried to draw on a lot of Celtic mythology and history to build each of the three witches. Design-wise, each one is tied to a different element/realm with Smertae being Water, Riata as Air, and Cait as Earth. (As a side note, ancient Celts were way more into the number 3 than 4 so fire as an “element” wasn’t nearly as important to them as it was in other faiths.)
The idea behind our witches is that each was made a sort of Fate-like demigod after sacrificing their lives for their communities. So they all reflect the history and culture of Scotland, but at different times. From Cait, whose people were suffering the effects of the last Ice Age, to Riata’s war against the advancing Roman army, you see really different cultures that still spring from the same physical area. And since none of them are from their “current” time, it makes all the witches strangers in their own homeland. It’s a major source of conflict in our book.
LM: There are a lot of people of color included in this telling of Macbeth. There is even a study question in the back of the hardcover edition devoted to their depiction in the book. Is their inclusion a comment on the current lack of diversity in comics or was it more of an exercise in rethinking how cultures interacted during the 11th century?
MS: The inclusion of people of color in our book was nothing more than our attempt to accurately portray the history of the time. And the study question is to point out one very stark fact: much of what you think the past was like—the day-to-day—is nonsense. It’s a trap I almost fell into when I first started researching this book. Fortunately, resources like the Tumblr MedievalPOC and more recent historical investigations drove me to question what I actually knew versus what I just assumed I knew, and I dug deeper into my research for Toil and Trouble. Here are some highlights from what I found:
The 11th century had extensive coastal training throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, and Africa. Since most of Scotland’s population (and most of this book) lives on or near the coast, you’d expect to see more diversity to reflect that. The famed Roman 9th Legion that “vanished” in Scotland (i.e. whose last documented point of agreed upon existence was in Scotland) came from Spain, which had extensive economic and social ties with Morocco, and stayed there for years. Since soldiers stationed any place that long tend to intermingle with the local population, you’d expect more ancestral diversity as well. Retesting has shown many Vikings were women, so the Norwegian Navy got a gender boost (and probably should have gotten more of one) in our initial battles. The evidence goes on and on.
Of course, I’m a writer, not a historian, but I’m not interested in pushing “political correctness”; I’m interested in pushing factual correctness. And I’d rather we went too far on the side of challenging bad historical stereotypes (like, everyone in pre-industrialized Scotland was white and had always been white) than to stay safely in their borders.
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LM: Kelly and Nichole, on your website it says that you’re both self-taught. Who are some of your influences and how did you get into comics?
KELLY & NICHOLE MATTHEWS: We’ve been inspired by so many things! Arthur Rackham, JH Williams III, comics like ElfQuest and Sandman, and anime (anything by Studio Ghibli and Matoko Shinkai are highly recommended!). The fantastical, unconventional storytelling and panel design we found in those really spoke to us and showed us that comics could be more than just a four-panel layout in the Sunday Comics.
As for how we got into this line of work, creating comics was something we have done in our spare time for years since we were younger. It was mostly fan comics (which we still do), but it helped us keep improving.
In the professional sense, we haven’t been here all that long. A few years ago we did a cover for BOOM!’s The Bravest Warriors comic, and that was actually the only “pro” thing we did for a long time, not counting the occasional anthology we’d participate in. It was only two years ago that it really took off—we signed on with Slipshine, then Filthy Figments, and about a year after that that we were signed for Toil and Trouble. We’ve been very fortunate that the work has been very constant since, and there are always new projects coming up as soon as old ones are ending. We’re very excited to see where we will be in the future.
While not unheard of, artists who work as a unit are a rarity in comics. How do you two divide the work? What’s your process?
K&NM: We try to divide things up fairly so that neither of us is shouldering the bulk of the work. We both tackle the thumbnails together; one of us will take the first pass, then the other will go over them and check for pacing, dynamics, etc. Kelly pencils, inks, and letters everything, and Nichole flats, colors, and adds any final touches or edits that’s needed, like special effects.
LM: Follow up question. Did your styles develop alongside each other? Or were each of you doing your own thing and then decided to come together?
K&NM: We knew very early on that drawing comics was something we wanted to do for a living. It was around the 4th grade, I think, that we decided the best way would be to draw comics together (thereby doubling our output). At that point, Kelly was better at drawing then Nichole was, and Nichole liked painting her pieces more, so we naturally just fell into the pattern that we still follow now, where Kelly would draw everything and Nichole would color it.
LM: I read that a friend of Mairghread’s named Sarah Stone originally designed the witches. Kelly and Nichole, what was it like making the transition from the original designs to the page?
K&NM: Sarah is an amazing character designer, and it wasn’t hard at all to transform her designs into our own style. There was not a lot of editing we had to do to make them easier to draw.
LM: Whose idea was it to include the Where’s Waldo tribute? Are there any other Easter eggs readers should look out for?
K&NM: When we got to the big fight scene, I don’t think Mairghread or [our Editor] Whitney [Leopard] were actually expecting us to put in as much detail as we did! We drew quite a few Easter Eggs that got taken out (understandably) so that BOOM! wouldn’t get in trouble, but you can still find Obi-Wan, Ranma, Vikings, Conan the Barbarian, Link, and some recolored Marvel and LoTR cameos that snuck under the radar.
LM: Do any of you have anything new coming up that we should look out for?
MS: Yes. I’ve recently launched the ongoing series Transformers: Till All Are One with IDW. It’s a bit more tech heavy than magic heavy, but if you liked the tension and political maneuvering in Toil and Trouble, you should definitely check it out.
K&NM: We’re very excited to have so many comics coming out soon! Breaker is a supernatural werewolf mystery we worked on with Mariah Huehner that will come out on Stela (the mobile comics app) soon. We have a piece in the Jim Henson’s Labyrinth Artist Tribute book and another secret project we’re working on with BOOM!. Last but not least, we’re drawing a comic with Audrey Redpath for Hiveworks called Symbol, about a young hero taking up their late mentor’s cowl and another for Hiveworks’ sister site, Mary’s Monster, called Maskless, about a group of aspiring supers determined to join the League of Heroes (even though they’re really bad at it).
June of this year as the conclusion of Andrew Maclean's Head Lopper, a dark, funny mix of high fantasy adventure and quirky humor. The story follows the titular warrior who embarks on a dangerous quest with only his wits, a few weapons, and the talking head of Agatha the blue witch. Head Lopper was a tour de force of action, humor, and graphic storytelling that managed to improve on Maclean's previous excellent graphic novel Apocalyptigirl. The future looks bright for the series with a new arc announced from Image comics and a bonus-laden trade to be released in October. Andrew Maclean was kind enough to talk with us about Head Lopper, Apocalyptigirl, and his influences. ASA: I'm excited to talk about Head Lopper, but before that, I'm curious about your background in comics. To a lot of fans, myself included, it seems like you appeared on the scene with a fully formed style and sensibility with Apocalyptigirl? How did you get into making comics and what was the first published work?
ANDREW: The first comic I ever drew was called Meatspace, it was written by writer Josh Gorfain. I think you can probably still get it at least on Comixology or something - but looking at that you'd be able to see that my style really wasn't fully formed yet and honestly, I think style, for me anyway, is this ever-morphing thing that is always being added to and subtracted from. But yeah, I did a story for Dark Horse Presents right before ApocalyptiGirl called SNIP SNIP, and I think that's probably around the time that I started to zero in a little bit on the way I wanted to draw.
ASA: While we're on the subject of somewhat earlier work, how did Apocalyptigirl come together? It's rare to see an adventure comic be released as a graphic novel instead of in some serialized format, so what was it like having a full, long-form story as your first major project?
ANDREW: I had already done a little bit with Head Lopper (self-publishing) when I started talking with Dark Horse, but they were really supportive of finding a good project for me. They sort of pitched me the formula of a 100 page 6x9 graphic novel and asked if I wanted to do some Head Lopper or some more SNIP SNIP stuff. At the time I had longer stories in mind for those two though so I offered them a third idea that I thought would fit the 100-page format well. That, of course, was ApocalyptiGirl.
ASA: Onwards and upwards, let's talk Head Lopper. Firstly, perhaps even more than your other work, Head Lopper is clearly a passion project for you, so what has it been like to transition it from a truly indie book to an Image book with a much wider audience?
ANDREW: Luckily both titles have felt like passion projects. I've been really lucky. But I'm a bit close to it, so it's tough to tell which has the bigger following, not to mention, new readers stumble upon both titles all the time. Sometimes word travels slowly. Mostly I try not to think about it too much and just focus on making the things.
ASA: One thing that was especially impressive about Head Lopper was that you created a high-fantasy story with loads of humor without it ever becoming a parody. Was it always your intention to play the fantasy straight and mix in some humor or did the style of the world evolve as you went?
ANDREW: Actually, I never meant for it to be a comedy. I wanted to make a comic that was simple, fun, but hopefully still badass. The jokes crept in immediately, though, partially to entertain myself, and partially because they were just kind of already there. You just needed to point them out. Having a talking head wasn't meant to be funny, but it made me chuckle right off the bat. Also - even when I did put jokes in I didn't think anyone would actually laugh. I think people's senses of humor is a little darker than I gave them credit for.
That said, where that original vision was sans humor - as humor became a characteristic of the thing, its been remained important to me that it doesn't become a parody. I love the genre too much to poke fun at it.
ASA: The relationship between Agatha and Norgal is so weird, specific, and fun. Do you see them as friends, enemies, or some odd-couple amalgamation of the two?
ANDREW: I won't give away too much because we have more to learn about their strange bond. But I will say they are still more enemy than friend going into this next season. We'll get much more into it in the future of course, but they are still bound to each other out of necessity - otherwise, Norgal would toss her into the sea.
ASA: Beyond the adventures of Norgal, the story contains a massive fantasy story of dead kings, deceitful stewarts, and many, many monsters. What was your basic idea for the story of Barra and Lulach?
ANDREW: I wanted a character in Lulach that was Grima Wormtongue from The Lord of the Rings, except Lulach can swing a sword and looks at the villain, Barra, as a father figure - and the rest just kind of filled itself in. Also, I was reading a fair bit of The Song of Ice and Fire at the time, so the whole Barra/Lulach/Royal Family storyline, I think, took on some of that Game of Thrones-style intrigue.
ASA: My favorite moment in the series is the ongoing, one-sided conversation between Agatha and a skull in issue #3. What was your idea for her as a character and her detached (literally) take on reality?
ANDREW: I just think the idea of her is funny. Making myself laugh is a fun way to make a book so if I have an idea that cracks me up I'd like to find a home for it. Well, at some point I started writing down a bunch of really simple Agatha jokes that are either her by herself or with very little else. The spider in the nose gag from issue 2 and the talking to the skull gag from issue 3 were some of those one-off jokes.
ASA: Your art seems to specialize in creative character designs and kinetic action sequences. What's your artistic process look like? Do you spend a lot of time on designs and layout?
ANDREW: I spend a fair amount of time on character design. When its right, its right, though. So sometimes you find the right look on the first pass, and you have to trust your gut. Sometimes if takes a bunch of iterations. As for layouts, I don't put a ton of effort into them on paper, but I start thinking about layouts while I write the scripts. So once I sit down with paper and pencil I at least have some idea of what I'd like to do.
ASA: Your work has been compared to that of Mike Mignola with a regularity you may well be tired of, but I noticed in Head Lopper what looked like designs based on Aztec and Gaelic tribal designs. What sort of influences influenced Head Lopper?
ANDREW: Actually, I don't mind the comparison - because it's true. A big part of what made me read comics as an adult, and in turn, made me want to make my own, was finding Mike's work. It showed me that comics can be about anything and can be drawn in any style. It really helped me look into what other types of comics might be out there.
I love all kinds of fantasy of course, but I enjoy greek and roman mythology, and heavy metal music, and I try to just squish all my favorite things into everything. I also wanted the island of Barra based on Scotland - and Barra, in some form, is a real place. I just love looking at pictures of Scotland and thought it would be wonderful to draw a lot of what I saw.
ASA: You recently announced that there will be more Head Lopper coming. Did you always have it in mind that these characters could support more adventures, or were you surprised to find you had more stories when the first was done?
ANDREW: Yeah, I've always pictured it as an ongoing thing. From the very start in fact. But Image has been really easy to work with so when we started out they asked how many issues I had in mind, and I told them I would need four big ones to tell this story. The said cool. That was that. And around issue 3, I hit them back up and just told them I wanted to make more, and clearly they were on board because issue 5 will be out in March 2017!
ASA: Finally, is there anything you are willing to tease about the next arc of Head Lopper and what's in store for Agatha and Norgal?
ANDREW: Yeah sure. I introduced a character in issue 3, Zhaania Kota Ka. This next arc revolves largely around her... and a few other new faces.
The Western is one of the iconic genres of American fiction, both in print and on the screen. It is so iconic at this point that there has been a counter-wave of films and stories that change, subvert, or even parody the tropes of the western. Blazing Saddles might be the most famous of those, both for its brilliance and its outrageousness, but it sits alongside Spaghetti Westerns and films set in Mexico during the revolution. With all of this in mind, Zeb Larson talks to Greg Pak about his new series Kingsway West and the ways in which it embraces and subverts westerns. ZEB LARSON: Were you much of a western fan prior to this story? I saw that you’re from Texas, so it was probably kind of hard to get away from that western mythos. What kind of bearing did that have on your writing?
GREG PAK: I had a kind of classic outdoor American childhood in suburban North Dallas, camping and hiking with the Boy Scouts and riding bikes around with friends, exploring the woods, hunting cottonmouths in creeks, all that good stuff. So I always loved Westerns and other kinds of outdoor adventure stories like Kurosawa samurai movies and Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons.
Follow-up: Which westerns were you thinking about when you wrote this story?
GP: Some of my favorite Westerns include those classic Anthony Mann/Jimmy Stewart pictures like Naked Spur, Arthur Penn's Little Big Man, Zinnemann's High Noon, and George Stevens' Shane. Shane and High Noon blew my mind when I was young and kind of cemented in my mind that archetype of the stoic Western hero who does what needs to be done for a community that may or may not have a place for him in the end. Naked Spur was an amazing example of how a small, deeply personal story can work as a Western adventure. And Little Big Man thrilled me with its humor and tragedy and embrace of a much more multicultural vision of the Old West. I didn't model Kingsway West directly on any of these stories, but all of those movies opened my head up in beautiful ways about what a Western could do.
ZL: I have to ask: how much did role-playing games have an impact on how you wrote this story? I was reading it and thinking of Deadlands, but obviously, D&D could be a big thing too.
GP: I never played Deadlands, alas. But yes, I was a big D&D nerd as a kid, and that kind of adventure and world-building has definitely inspired me over the years. I got a kick out of seeing Ta-Nehisi Coates cite D&D as a big inspiration the other day on Twitter. I think that's probably true of a lot of us speculative fiction and fantasy writers.
ZL: In the traditional American cowboy story, Mexicans are usually bandits and any Chinese characters are running a laundry or the like. How much of this story is a conscious attempt to shatter that mold?
GP: Breaking stereotypes is a huge thing for me in general, and it definitely is a big part of what inspired me from the beginning with this project. I was a biracial Korean American kid growing up in Texas who loved Westerns. So when I learned about the actual history of Chinese immigrants in the Old West, I was so thrilled and inspired. I've wanted to tell a story about a Chinese gunslinger in the Old West for over two decades now. Almost hard to believe it's actually finally coming out!
ZL: It’s interesting that the central conflict (at least in the first issue) is between a Mexican faction and a Chinese faction. There are also little culturally specific nuggets: Jackalopes for the Americans, and dragons for the Chinese, for example. Is this an east-meets-west kind of story, or is their interaction more complicated than that?
GP: That's a great question. I honestly just think of it as an American story. The actual Old West was stunningly diverse, as was pretty much every era in American history. This book is just shining a light on folks that many Westerns don't tend to feature. I'm also finding myself thinking about the fact that horses went extinct in America in prehistoric times -- they were only reintroduced in the 15th and 16th Centuries. So horses, one of the most iconic symbols of the American West, are imports. So the dragons and jackalopes and bearfeet and antelopes and everything else in Kingsway West are all parts of a multicultural mythology that feels entirely American to me.
ZL: Americans in the nineteenth century (and today) genuinely believed in Manifest Destiny. I would have to think that having both a strong Mexican Republic and Chinese empire on their borders would shatter so many of those ideas…or make them even harder-edged. Will that be looked at all in this story?
GP: Oh, yeah. On the last page of issue #1, we introduce some elements that indicate the world is much bigger and complex than you might have otherwise known, with other communities involved in key ways. Keep on reading, friends!
ZL: The time period, the 1860s, couldn’t help but jump out at me because of the American Civil War. Yet the Civil War wasn’t fought with Red Gold. Is there going to be any discussion of whether and how far our timelines diverged?
GP: Yep, we'll touch on that in issue #2 and beyond. Everything's shifted a bit, in various interesting ways.
ZL: One of the things that struck me about this book is that for all of the fantasy, it shows California before it was totally anglicized by the U.S. Is there some kind of nostalgia (if you can feel nostalgia for a thing you weren’t alive for) for this lost time and place?
GP: That's a great question. Westerns often are an exercise in nostalgia, aren't they? Maybe on some level, I'm trying to create a mythology for the past the way it was instead of the way it's traditionally been depicted. I mean, this is fantasy, alternate history, so it's not historically accurate. But it reflects the actual diversity of the era and explores the actual conflicts of the era through a different lens.
ZL: I know you’ve just started this new series, but are there any other simmering stories you’ve been wanting to get on the page?
GP: You bet! Right now Kingsway West is a four issue miniseries. But if it does well enough, we'll have a shot at a second volume -- and heck, maybe a third! I've absolutely got more tales to tell in this world, so if you enjoy the book, please ask your local retailer to order issues #2 to #4 for you -- or pre-order through KingswayWest.com!
And I've definitely got some more new projects up my sleeve, including a comic series I've wanted to do for about ten years now. I hope to have more news about all that soon -- stay tuned!
We arranged to meet in the afternoon at a gamer pub in Savannah. Above me a projector blasted a game of Pokken Tournament on a screen that filled the wall over my shoulder. As I waited, I sipped on a cocktail named the “Master Chief.” At the high tops, a group of college students blew off some steam with the politically incorrect megahit, Cards Against Humanity. Then, Ahmad Rashad Doucet swung open the front door and filled the place with sunshine that had gamers squinting and turning away as though vampirism drove them to shun the light. He laughed in admiration at my Star Wars themed AT-AT t-shirt. We sat down and ordered nachos to munch on while we talked.
“I gotta ask you something about comics.”
“Okay, shoot,” he responds before biting down.
“Stephen King wrote that no one asks him about the language.”
Rashad chuckled and nodded, knowing where I was going with this.
“So tell me about the art.”
I chose Rashad to answer that inquiry because of his faculty position at the world-renown school for arts, SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design). Besides the teaching gig, his professional dossier includes work with Stela, Slave Labor Graphics, Mascot Books, Zuda Comics, and Oni Press. He did illustrations for Star Wars Celebration, as well.
Just a few months ago he and Matt Gardner teamed up for the graphic novel Alabaster Shadows. Think of the work as a Stranger Things with a little more Lovecraft and a broader audience. Garnering critical and fan praise, Alabaster Shadows reaffirmed Doucet’s talents to his audiences and to me.
If anyone could help me understand sequential art better from the illustrator’s perspective, he can.
CB: What got you interested in sequential art?
ARD: My grandma. She would tell me bedtime stories of Spider-Man and the Hulk. My favorite one was when I asked her how the Hulk became the Hulk. She told me he got stuck in a washing machine, and when he came out, he was the Hulk. That got me hooked. She would buy me comics if I did well in school.
I grew up in Eunice, Louisiana, and before I moved to New Orleans, there were no comic shops. There was one comic shop that was run out of some guy’s garage. It was the 90's, and "The Age of Apocalypse." I bought up every issue from him.
And when I was little, I made a lot of noise in church. To keep me quiet, Grandma gave me paper and told me to draw. I would write a lot of my stories. I was more of a writer when I started out…
When I got into high school, I got into Superman. A lot. I was a hater of Superman until I read Kingdom Come and "The Death of Superman," and that made me like Superman and want to try and write and draw full pages. I started drawing full pages in high school.
Now, I was playing basketball and other stuff that kind of took away from that. There was a teacher who told me about SCAD, but I thought it was too expensive. And I thought I couldn’t make it. I went to college at University of New Orleans and took Fine Art.
Then, Hurricane Katrina happened. I reprioritized. All along I knew I loved comics. I would fly all over for conventions or drive nonstop with friends from New Orleans to Wizard World Chicago. We went from the top of the country to the bottom. It was a crazy drive, but we were trying to break into comics…
I focused entirely on comics and relocated here [Savannah]. I started SCAD and got work in the third quarter of my masters… I have been freelancing and working with Oni ever since.
CB: What was the best lesson from your personal education at University of New Orleans and SCAD that you learned?
ARD: I would say not letting my fandom hold me back. As artists and creators and fans, we’re so dedicated to certain things. We get so wrapped up in “this is how you do it” that we limit the amount of people we could work for and the potential we have by being stunted by our fandom of one thing or company. Even though I am a fan of a lot of things, I am willing to work on anything. Especially in terms of stepping outside the boundary and analyzing things from different ways.
Look at Twilight. Why does it work? It’s badly written. I’m not the biggest fan of it, but it’s affecting people. You can’t let your hate of it wash it out because it’s working. I look at Rob Liefeld. A lot of people don’t like him. But he was on The Tonight Show talking about comics. He’s doing something right. His work is resonating with people. I would love to work with him because he knows what he’s doing and he knows a lot about surviving. He’s been doing it since he was fifteen or sixteen years old. I respect his work ethic. His hustle.
What holds back so many artists is that they want everything to be one way. They want to be like their favorite artist, but they aren’t willing to go a different path. Your favorite artist’s path is not your path.
CB: What was the best lesson you learned from your professional experience?
ARD: Learn how to work with others. Truly take direction and don’t get too caught up in yourself. Most of all: be able to work, not fast but fast and good. Learn how to meet your deadline. I have to juggle day-to-day stuff and work. Compartmentalize the day. If I’m playing video games, I’m giving myself an hour. That’s the key.
CB: What lesson do you work at the most to impart to students in your sequential art classes?
ARD: Be willing to expand past your comfort zone. So many students are so zoned focused that they want to work at this one company and this one place, and that’s not how this works at all. All your favorite artists are working on several projects. Until you have been in the industry for a while and you get the big contracts, that’s when you will be working for one person.
And think of the business like Speed from Speed Racer. No one liked that movie. But I liked how Speed learned of all the problems in racing: corporate interference, his missing brother. You, like Speed Racer, have to take all that stuff and just race. Once you see the other side of the fence, the more business side of it--that could break you. Don’t let it. People do this job because they love it. But it is a business. You have to accept that.
Ultimately, the beauty of comics is that you can forge your own path. You can forge your own path easily.
CB: What should a student do to prepare for schooling in sequential art?
ARD: Draw backgrounds. The main thing that students and young artists do is draw their favorite characters. They draw them standing up, sitting, and action poses. But they don’t draw what’s around them.
I always bring up the movie Big Hero 6. Hiro looks cool. Baymax looks cool. But look at Hiro’s room. Look at all the cool stuff that defines his character.
It’s good to develop all your skills at one time. You can get really good at drawing people, but draw the tree next to him. Some people will say that they don’t like drawing trees. They say it’s boring, but that’s what’s going to help you. It gets you better. Companies like Marvel and DC looking for artists need to know you have the capability to draw a background. People don’t think to draw a chair behind Spider-man, but you can put some really cool stuff on it.
When I look at people’s portfolios, I see they draw perfect rooms with all the standard items but none of the personality that our real life rooms reflect. I ask them, “Whose room is that? No one has a room like that.”
So draw a lot, but sketch all kinds of things. And most of all, don’t redraw a picture. Anyone who reads comics will recognize a Jim Lee picture. I feel you learn more by coming up with your own pose rather than drawing over a Jim Lee drawing.
CB: Do you have a go-to example of a perfect or near perfect graphic novel or comic book that you use as an example when you teach?
ARD: That depends on the genre. But I look for a good artist. Look at Stuart Immonen’s artwork. He tells great stories. Or look at Ohba’s Death Note. Look for artists that tell a story clearly and get you to care about the heroes, even the villains. My favorite comic for me personally is All-Star Superman #6. Superboy deals with the death of Jonathan Kent. You see the story where Superman has to accept that no matter how fast he is and no matter how powerful he is, he can’t stop a heath attack. I felt like that was just a really powerful moment to show a side of a character without making him seem weak. The best comics will be powerful and relate to you.
CB: If you could fix one thing about the industry right now, what would that be?
ARD: We need to become more extroverted. As evidenced by the film and television industry, people are willing to spend tons of money on comic book based properties. from The Flash to The Walking Dead, people are craving entertainment based on what we create, and I want to see more creators embrace this. Be willing to publicly promote their work, not just as cons but in their local shops and libraries, interacting more with people who aren't typical fans and embracing them.
People in the comic industry are so stuck in their singular vision that they don’t realize how big their empires could be. We need to look past that “I’m in a basement with my friends thing.” Let’s look like “I’m in a store on display with my friends” thing. Some people get it. Stan Lee gets it. He knows the importance of being a public face. It’s scary. None of us are used to being a public face in comics. That’s what we need. I don’t want all the scandals and crap that comes along with celebrities. But be willing to talk to a mom and a dad in a store.
And be like a sports fan. I’m not a Saint’s fan, but I will talk about that team or football in general to anyone. That’s what the comic book world needs. I want comics to be more like sports in that way.
ARD: Diversity. And conversations about it. People mad about this and that. All that. We need all sorts of creators, we need all sorts of characters. There are so many types of comics that you can’t read all of them. That’s a great thing.
We live in a weird golden age. I go to ComiXology, and I’m glad that they have their unlimited subscription and Submit sections. There’s so much I can read. Valiant and Lion’s Forge have a bunch of cool stuff. There’s just so many more things to get into. When I grew up in the 90's, we had Marvel, DC, and later Image. Now there are twenty, thirty companies as well as other people just trying to tell their stories. I hope we can continue down that road.
The big companies are also reinventing their characters. People say that superhero stories are all done, but I don’t think that. New writers and artists like David Walker and Babs Tarr are bringing a whole new voice to characters.
And the support to new comics is great, as well. I watched Walking Dead #1 rise. I have a copy—somewhere. I hope I can find it. I wasn’t a big fan, but I liked that it was different. It’s in a sealed bag, and it’s safe.
But comics are diverse and expanding.
Having felt satisfied that I learned more about art I ended the official interview. We talked on about comics while many Pokemon battled just behind us. Rashad explained that he is working on some big projects, but as with all creative types, he needs to keep them secret for now. Check out Alabaster Shadows and Spacetails with him and Rahal, and head back here at Comic Bastards for more on his perspective of illustrating, writing, and teaching sequential art.
ZEB LARSON: I actually feel like Roche Limit has become somewhat more hopeful throughout its run, and not just because we’ve lost Langford’s rather morose narration as the series has gone. Was that intentional, or am I just becoming optimistic?
MICHAEL MORECI: You're absolutely right. Ultimately, Roche Limit was a story about redemption, both intimately for each of our characters and also for humanity as well. The deeper we went into the series, the more the central idea became apparent—that one of the things that makes humanity so uniquely wonderful is our capacity to dedicate ourselves—and sacrifice ourselves, if need be—for the greater good. We have these systems of cooperation everywhere we look: families, government, churches, etc., and I firmly, firmly believe that we accomplish more together than we do on our own. The despair in those early issues come from Langford realizing what his failures—and humanity's failures—were, then finding strength to move beyond that.
ZL: If we’re making comparisons, part one of this series is Blade Runner, and part two is more akin to Aliens. How would you describe part three? Were the influences behind it different from what inspired the first two series?
MM: I think Monadic, part three, is the most blank template of the three. I was really playing homage to a lot of sci-fi in volumes one and two—Blade Runner, Aliens, Philip K. Dick, Vonnegut, even Star Wars. Part three has some dashes of Dark City and Kubrick, but it's the most original of the three.
ZL: How much was this series mapped out when the first book came out? Did it develop as you published it, or was it mostly set from the beginning?
MM: I had the ending—those final four pages—in my mind from the very start. I knew exactly that's where it would end. And I knew it would be three parts with big spans of time between each, and I knew pretty much the entire story of Clandestiny. But, I was surprised along the way, all the time, and I went down some unexpected paths, so I had room for discovery.
ZL: Why bring the characters from the first and second arcs back together? What did you want to do with that?
MM: Because I think, ultimately, there stories were the same. They were about characters driven by individual pursuits who lost sight of the bigger picture, and I wanted them to come back and have the opportunity to find the redemption in this weird afterlife that they couldn't find in life, but it also tied the theme, mentioned above, in a nice bow: you can be an individual—it's imperative to the human experience that you are—but you have to contextualize yourself within the greater good of your family, community, and so on. That's what the black sun aliens could never grasp—committing to something bigger than yourself while still being an individual, and that's why they were never able to become human.
ZL: The aliens in this series are ambiguous, in a certain sense, because they seem more focused on imitating the worst in humanity. Does that say something about human nature?
MM: I think it was less the worst that they were trying to imitate and more that they didn't understand the best of us. And there is a discord there, right? On one hand, we are all so unique—we have a soul, a monad, a unit of being that makes us self-aware individuals—and on the other hand, we are also units of a greater whole. But, sometimes, being part of that whole means we have to lay down one of our greatest strengths/characteristics, our individualism, out of necessity. The aliens were never able to understand that, and that's what held them back.
ZL: What takeaway do you want people to have now that Roche Limit is finished?
MM: You know, I've said a lot about the themes, and I think there's a lot there that's important now, existentially and politically. But I also hope that Roche Limit can be a reminder that sci-fi doesn't need to be limited to being simply action in space with crazy ass gadgets and aliens. The best sci-fi informs us, instructs us, gets us to understand who and what we are on a deeper, more profound level. I'm thinking PKD, Children of Men, the Expanse novel series, Blade Runner, Gattaca—I can go on and on and on. Point being—I want to see more comic books like Roche Limit. I want to see books that are weird as hell but have something bigger to say, following the tradition of the best sci-fi—which, to me, is the best storytelling genre that there is.
ZL: Let’s shift gears to Indoctrination for a bit. It delves into similar themes we’ve seen elsewhere in what you write. Was there a specific moment of inspiration?
MM: Not really. I think it's more about our cultural landscape of radical thought that, sometimes, get puts into radical action. And I think, in our country, both sides are guilty of the same thing—all we do is dig into the thoughts and mores of our tribe, and we never take a moment to listen or hear other people out. We're all getting more and more radical, and that's a very, very dangerous thing.
ZL: There’s a quote in the first issue of Indoctrination about men being slaves to the ideas of a defunct economist. Obviously, the book is taking a hard look at radical Islam, but is there anything else you’re turning the lens on?
MM: Without question, and I'll just come out and say it: Trump. I think Trump is a cult leader if there ever was one. He shares the most basic traits of make unrealistic promises as he feeds on people's fears, and all he asks in exchange is total devotion and to be given all the power—power over our lives, our opinions, our law. Sure, Indoctrination is about ISIS, but it's just as much about the radicalism that is choking American politics right here and now—radicalism that's becoming mainstream, which is terrifying.
ZL: I saw you mention in another interview that you and Matt Battaglia sit on fairly different sides of the political fence, but you seem to have found common ground in Indoctrination. What is it about what you’re working on that made this possible? Is that something that can be applied elsewhere?
MM: Matt and I are for sure different, but unlike more political people, we're willing to listen to each other and we respect each other's viewpoints. Out of that, we see the same things: radicalism run amok, dangerous enemies encroaching that can literally spring out of nowhere. Can our relationship be applied elsewhere? Man, I really hope so. Because an unwillingness to listen is one of the reasons why we have such radical thought. No one listens anymore. No one respects differing viewpoints. And when you do that, you just entrench yourself on your side, so hard, and you never look back. And the more you entrench, the less you listen, the further away from moderate viewpoints you get. And this goes for both liberals and conservatives—we need to listen and respect each other much, much more than we do. Politically and culturally. You'd be surprised how much calmer we can all be if we're just willing to listen to someone—even if you think they're perspective is wrong.
ZL: Let me put you on the spot. Burning Fields was at least in part about the consequences of American intervention in Iraq, an intervention which was supposed (depending on who you asked and when) to quell the threat of Islamic terrorism. Indoctrination is living in the shadows of those consequences to a certain extent, as well as terrorism. What should we do differently?
MM: Oh, man. That's a tough question. There's so much. I think a lot has to do with violence being our first response, violence being so deeply ingrained in our society. We need more diplomacy. We need better gun laws. We need better foreign policies. I know this answer is all over the place, but there's so many things we can do better, but I think it starts with problems that all start with violence. The U.S. weaponized Bin Laden however many years ago when it was convenient for us to do so, and eventually he came to being our greatest enemy. We went to war in Iraq for no reason, and now Iraq is a hotbed for our greatest terrorist threat. The thread in all this is that violence begets more violence. It may not be direct, but it's there. I've set it before, and I stand by it—we will never kill our way to peace. It will never happen.
MM: I'm not sure about an answer, but at least an idea. It goes back to what I said before—we need more unity. There's a reason why the message of ISIS and Trump are so appealing, right? People are able to be reached with these toxic messages, these perverted ideas, because they feel marginalized or troubled or desperate in some way. We need to be sure out political policies are reaching everyone, both domestically and abroad, in the best way possible. That means basic conditions are being met: health care, livable wages, access to education. You can't kill an idea—but you can make it so people aren't seeking radical answers to problems they don't have.
ZL: You’re working on two books. Can you tell us anything about them?
MM: The two novels are quite the departure for me, in some ways. They're sci-fi, which is right in my wheelhouse, of course, but they're more sci-fi adventure books. If you know me, you know my favorite thing in the world is Star Wars. I LOVE Star Wars. These books are hugely inspired by Star Wars. They're fun, they're full of adventure, but, you know, it wouldn't be me if there wasn't something deeper going on as well (which Star Wars has as well!).