In the Hunt with Sean Lewis

 

Can comic books be conduits for social change? Should they be? The answer to both these questions is a resounding “yes!”.  Not only can comics help to expose people to new ideas and broaden their horizons, but comics have always served this fundamental function. The genre’s first hero, Superman, was created as a vehicle for social change. Superman, as first conceived, was the symbol of the immigrant who ventured to the United States to reach his full potential. His first villains were not world destroyers or meta-humans, but instead, Superman’s original foes were most often corrupt businessman and politicians. He fought those who exploited the average man. This element recently returned in Action Comics #987, which saw Superman protecting immigrants from white nationalists. But Superman has not been the only vehicle by which comics have attempted to affect social change. Wonder Woman’s very existence is a commentary on gender equality. Marvel’s X-men has been a continuous appeal for the acceptance of those who are different. Spiderman is a message about how the marginalized amongst us can achieve great feats. The Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams were an attempt to influence readers and to encourage them to reflect on the world around them. Even today there are independent comics being published all the time that give voice to the previously voiceless.  Comics have always been full of liberal ideas as all forms of art tend to be and, hopefully, will always continue to be. Continuing this most essential role of comics as social justice leaders is the new series, by Sean Lewis, called Coyotes.  This lauded series is replete with ideas about the victimization of women and the importance of restorative justice.

For those of you who are not familiar with this phenomenal work, here is a short summary. Coyotes is modern fairytale about an old concept of the werewolves. Men become werewolves by wearing animal pelts. They also stalk women causing many to go missing within a border town known as “The City of Lost Girls”.  This brings us to this series’ heroine, named Red. She is a thirteen-year-old girl who proves to be an answer to a prophecy about the one who will lead a group of warrior women in defeating the wolves. The story stretches back for generations as all great fairytales do.  Got it?

I had the sincere pleasure of interviewing Sean Lewis.

 What inspired the creation of Coyotes?

Caitlin and I started working on the book in 2015. I had done some work for THIS AMERICAN LIFE and they ran a story at one point about women going missing in Juarez. My wife is Canadian and she had told me about the trail of tears where Inuit women had gone missing. I started thinking of how many locales around the world were known for women going missing. How terrifying and real that was… when I thought about Juarez I started thinking of Coyotes- people who transfer people across the Mexican border- and what a strange phrase that was… I asked myself “what if they were actual coyotes?” The predation, the animalism, the threat… at that point the book started to take shape. 

Coyotes has a definite mythical element to it. How does this element work in conjunction with the very real issues of women’s victimization that this series explores to enhance the readers’ understanding of the topic?

I love myth. I grew up Catholic but Bulfinch’s Mythology books might have been a more concrete bible in my childhood. I used to spend months with each story. I think human beings are really bad at getting out of their own way. I mean that for all of us. Our emotions and history, our baggage and point of view often obscure things that feel really obvious. Myth gives distance. Myth is this weird thing that we look at and say “oh that’s just a story” in some dismissive way, but we are always drawn to it. How did we get here? Who are we?

Women’s victimization isn’t new. We all know this but it doesn’t change. Why? Are we too comfortable with it? Simply used to it? I don’t really know. But I did think the harsh realities of the situation would make it hard for readers to take the story on in an open way. So myths… they give an entryway. They let you put your baggage down and enter the room with open hands, so to speak. 

And Gods live in all of us. Gods are simply whatever we worship. And we all worship something. So having them in three dimensions brings those wants and needs of the women in my book fully to life. 

The Grandmothers add a generational element to this story. What does their existence represent in the overall tapestry of this concept? Is there a message in making the youthful Red the hope for defeating the coyotes?

I like seeing multiple ages in books. I like a litany. In the first arc, I had conceived as the Abuelas as kind of first wave feminists. The Duchess and the Victoria’s represented a more militant post wave response and Red is at the center. A teenage girl, deciding who she will be in a very violent and woman-hating world. I think whenever the young are tasked with being the champion it has a simple message: we have hope for the future. We have to root for the future. The past has been victorious but it might hold lessons… and we might finally overcome this. 

The women of Eleos have imprisoned men who have been Coyotes to seek justice. Are these men redeemable considering the acts they have committed? Is there closure in attempting this form of justice?

A great question. I’m really obsessed with restorative justice and even more so with the idea of forgiveness. (Note, not the act but the idea). I’m a lapsed Catholic. My issues with the Church are many but I miss the sacrament of contrition. Of sitting with a community member (the priest) and saying “I did this.” We live in a very aggressive age. Everyone is under attack at all times. Everyone feels the need to have a formed opinion, judgment and execution plan at the ready. And everyone always seems so angry. 

I’m not happy with the world right now. I don’t know what to do. I think people are evil. And still I have this nagging thing in my brain… how do we remake communities when everyone is hurt? Can we forgive? Is that just stupid?

I did theater in Rwanda. And that country after the genocide- they reached out to perpetrators and said come to your villages, stand up in front of the people you hurt and admit what you did. And then we won’t kill you. They are a small country and the genocide was so far-reaching that if they didn’t forgive they wouldn’t have enough people to keep their very society running. 

So, people admitted to murdering neighbors and then moved back home next to their victims. I don’t know if it works. Privately, when I was there, friends would tell me there was still anger bubbling. Other friends said it made sense. Others said it is tradition (tribal courts used to do this). 

It’s a question: is forgiveness an act of absolution or an act of community? I don’t think you can wipe sins away and the world we live in right now would see that as a cop-out. But can it be an act of community? I honestly don’t know. It’s mainly what I am exploring.

Is the attempt at rehabilitation more for the benefit of the victim or the perpetrator?

 It’s an interesting question. Do you mean in the book or in life? In the book, I think that it’s for the benefit of the community more than for the victim or the perpetrator. Some of the women leave because they don’t want to engage with it. Others work side by side with the men. There is no absolute.

Outside of the book, it’s a question that comes up a lot. And again, I don’t think it’s absolute. No one is owed forgiveness. I don’t believe you HAVE to forgive someone who has hurt you. But I also get scared of the language around it. “Who does it benefit”. I don’t mean that as an issue with your question. I think it’s how we’ve been trained to look at things. Benefit. Winners and losers. If I forgive this person did they win? 

I think forgiveness isn’t about absolution. It’s about handling anger and rage. Some people hurt you so bad you need that rage the rest of your life simply to be safe. That is ok. Sometimes that rage eats you alive until you let it go.

In the book, both of these things are happening.

I think this book is going to teach me a lot about what I think on this. 

 Will the series be ongoing or is there a planned end point?

Oh, I’d write this book forever if they let me. I don’t know. You hate to say as long as its profitable but Caitlin kills herself to make the pages so stunning. So, I will write it as long as Cait can. 

 What can readers look forward to in future issues of Coyotes?

I think endless surprises. I don’t think the book ever plays the way you think it will. It’s going to be thoughtful and it is going to be challenging. If that is your bag then it’s a good book for you.

 

Soaring High with Robert Venditti

Why have some characters endured for decades while others have disappeared into the abyss of comic obscurity? It is because some characters have been able to adapt to the changing whims of their readers while others have proven stagnant. For instance, Batman began as a gothic-noir hero in the 40s, changed to a silly slapstick character in the 60s, and, eventually, became the “Dark Knight” in the 80s. Superman always battles the stigma of relevancy. But perhaps there is no character that better exemplifies this idea of rebirth as Hawkman. Hawkman has his roots in the 40s with the initial comic book boom that was ignited thanks to Action Comics #1. This version was an archaeologist, named Carter Hall, who discovered that he was the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince, Khufu. He had also found the mysterious “ninth metal” that allowed him to fly. In the 1960s, DC responded to the popularity of the space race by reintroducing Hawkman as an alien policeman from the planet, Thanagar. Over time, and many restarts, Geoff Johns would introduce the concept that Carter Hall was part of a long cycle of reincarnations that including EVERY version of the character from his extensive history. At times, Hawkman’s stories were written in a silly fashion, but later the character was written to reflect the grittier stories of the 90s. Most recently, Hawkman has received a renaissance thanks to the event series, DC Metal, from DC comics. This series introduced the concept that Carter Hall was part of a long history that centered on nine special metals and multiple human tribes that were in conflict with a dark universe god, named Barbatos. Now, Hawkman will receive a new title, which will be written by one of my all-time favorite writers, Robert Venditti. Mr. Venditti has previously been the genius behind Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps and Green Lantern. He also spearheaded a fantastic creator-owned title, called Damage, which also has spun out of the pages of DC metal.

I had the great pleasure to cross off one name from my interview bucket list when I had the opportunity to interview Robert Venditti. The below interview has not been edited.

Damage is a new series by you. Were there any guidelines or restrictions placed upon you in developing this series? What inspired the creation of Damage?

I first spoke with DC about the concept of Damage years ago. The idea was to take a different look at the Hourman mythology. The plans never really worked out to use the character until DC approached me about including him in the New Age of heroes launch. Opportunities to launch new series with new characters in established universes don’t come along very often, so I jumped at the chance.

The DCU is a vast universe of stories and characters. What does Damage add to thee mythos? What place do you foresee this character occupying in the DCU?

Damage is a giant wrecking ball crashing through all of it. He’s the one-hour weapon of mass destruction. More importantly, he’s Ethan Avery, an average guy who wanted to make a difference in a world where superheroes take care of pretty much everything. Like a lot of people, Ethan felt overwhelmed by powers far greater than him. Unfortunately, his drive to become a hero turned him into a monster. Now he just wants to be left alone. But wherever he goes, he’s hunted by Colonel Jonas, the woman who created him and still wants to control him. Ultimately, the series is about an individual’s right to control their own destiny. And damage. Lots and lots of damage.

How did you get involved with the new Hawkman title? Why do you think this character has endured throughout the generations?

DC approached me about launching a new Hawkman series. It’s exactly the type of project I’ve been wanting to take on, a chance to return a classic character to prominence. I put together my pitch, and DC liked it. The character has had many versions and interpretations over the decades, but running through them all is the basic premise of a winged warrior. There’s something instantly recognizable and aspirational in that idea. People respond to it. It also doesn’t hurt that he has an amazing design.

Which aspects of continuity will remain canon for your Hawkman series? Will his New 52 living armor remain canon? How about the events of Brightest Day or Blackest Night?

Without getting into spoilers, I’ll just say that we’ll be using a lot of aspects of Hawkman from many different eras. I’ve read 200+ Hawkman stories at this point, and just about every version has something to offer.

In DC Metal, Kendra is turned for a short time, by Barbatos, into a darker form of herself. Will this have lasting consequences on Kendra’s psyche? How about Hawkmanas the dragon of Barbatos?

Speaking just to the Hawkman part of that question, I feel that Scott told his story and told it really well in Metal. We’re not looking to dive back into that, at least not in the near term. But where Carter’s story ended in Metal, it begins in our series. He realizes there’s far more to his history and his past lives than he ever understood, and he’s propelled on an adventure of exploration and discovery that’s as much about himself as it is the places he journeys to. A threat is coming to Earth that only Hawkman can stop. To do it, he’ll have to follow the clues he’s left for himself across history.

Interestingly, Metal set-up Hawkman as more of a detective which is a tonal shift from how Hawkman is most often portrayed. How will this tone inform your series?

I consider an archaeologist to be a detective, they’re just a detective of history. We’ll certainly be leaning into that aspect of Carter’s backstory. We’ll have him visiting wild locations unique to the DCU, starting on page one of issue one. It never lets up, really. Each issue is a new place where he makes a new discovery about himself and his past.

What can readers look forward to in future issues of Damage and Hawkman?

In Damage, Ethan will continue to face off against Poison Ivy in the current arc, plus there’ll be appearances by Gorilla Grodd and Swamp Thing. In the next arc, Colonel Jonas catches up to him with her team of specialized hunters. That’s a confrontation readers won’t want to miss. In Hawkman, Carter will continue to reveal secrets about his past—including a big one in the first issue—while racing against the arrival of the threat coming to destroy him and Earth. We have a lot of surprises in store.          

Crude Words with Steve Orlando

Every written work is a confession by an author to his/her reader. Fiction exists to mask the telling of our story and mold into a fashion that is palatable- a confession that the writer feels compelled to express. But, in reading these stories, we, as readers, also are presented an opportunity to learn about ourselves. Our reaction to what we read is just as much of a test of who we are. A great work can challenge our beliefs about ourselves. For instance, are we as “woken” as we believe we are? What biases may we hold that may be revealed within a text? At their best, a great work exists as a dialogue between author and reader. Each side expressing themselves to the other. An author expresses him/herself through their words and their readers express themselves by their reaction. In doing so, a connection materializes with the work operating as the bridge. Connections can then form between different readers over the same work. So, perhaps, a great work is, at its heart, a bridge across society.  Crude, by Steve Orlando, and published by Skybound/Image, is the type of remarkable work that challenges the reader. It is the type of deeply personal work that begs to be reflected upon long after it is read. After reading Crude, think about what you have learned about yourself too.

What is Crude? It is a grim and gritty story that takes place in Russia. It is violent. It is graphic. It is fantastic. In the story, a man, named Piotr Petrovich, receives the dead body of his son. This son did not die of natural causes but was murdered by hired killers. Now Piotr, a man with a dark history all his own, decides to seek revenge for his boy’s death. Along the way, Piotr, will find out who his son really was. Piotr’s quest for revenge will send him through the darkest parts of Russia.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Orlando. The below text has NOT been edited.

 Please describe your writing process.

It varies depending on the artist! For CRUDE, we worked what’s commonly called “Marvel Style,” where I would provide descriptions of all the action on the page, or pages, but not give individual panel breakdowns or final dialogue. Once Garry’s inks came in, I would then complete the dialogue with the finished, expressive art in front of me, and divide it among the panels based on Garry’s layouts. This format I think is best for collaboration, as it gives more freedom to the art team and is more alchemical. 

What led to the creation of Crude? Why is Skybound the perfect home for this book?

Skybound has been nothing but supportive as a story as aggressive, passionate, and experimental as CRUDE. Garry and I have wanted to keep things loose and collaborative, and Skybound has stood by us, fostering our creativity and pushing us to be better ourselves, and to better each other. CRUDE itself came about from a desire I had to tell a spiritual sequel to my Image Central release VIRGIL, which was also a very different, but LGBTQ+ Focused Revenge Story. The challenge with CRUDE was to answer the question “what MORE could we say, what MORE could we do…and how can we EVOLVE this type of story?”

The setting of Crude is very unique. Why did you decide to place the events in this series in Russia? Were you at all influenced by the high level of attention Russia is getting in the news?

Thinking of how we could evolve from what we accomplished with VIRGIL, the question was what other areas and cultures have struggles with LGBTQ+ acceptance? Russia was obviously on the list, but CRUDE was in development long before the current news cycle. I studied there in 2007, and have always found the passion and contradictions of the culture extremely fascinating. While living there, I saw both the best and worst things I’ve ever seen a human being do.

How is your title, Crude, a play on words with its other definition being “primitive, vulgar, or elemental”? How are you utilizing the violence in this book stylistically?

“Elemental” is right. “Vulgar” is right. There is a regret-fueled anger driving Piotr Petrovich Bilibin that explodes in many directions, at all the forces at work in Blackstone: its corporate masters in Petropinnacle, and its underworld masters in Meshe Adam. After so long relegating himself to the role of impotent, stoic father, Piotr finally acts out, and his actions as just as you say, elemental and vulgar. As for the art, I have such respect for Garry Brown’s work, I stepped back when it comes to CRUDE’s language of violence and allowed him to come out with our punch and headbutt idioms.

The last line in issue one is “Show me who you really were”.  Is that statement meant for the reader as much as it is meant about Kiril? How is this book an insight into who you are? How is it an insight for you as to who your readers are?

This is the thesis statement of Piotr’s entire mission on Blackstone. He’s speaking to Kiril, he’s speaking to the city as well. Much as I write in my outro to Issue 1, CRUDE is a lot about wrong-choices-made and the lives they lead to, and often times, we only know they’re wrong once we’ve reached a new understanding of ourselves. CRUDE is a cry to readers — act now, don’t close yourself off from those you’re close to, no matter who they are.

You don’t want to end up like Piotr. And you don’t want to end up like Kiril.

What can readers look forward to in future issues?

Look for even more inventive and visceral action that climaxes and climaxes until it reaches all the way to the true devil being Blackstone, think Old Boy meets The Raid 2 and you’re almost there!

Into the Future with Christopher Sebela

 

No genre can foment the cold sweat of dread like dystopian novels. They exist as the distorted mirror of our society- forever reflecting our worst impulses and potential futures. At their best, dystopian stories present an insight into our flaws so that we may correct them while we still have the time and opportunity in which to do so.  For instance, 1984 warns of the oppression inherent in a government that exists unchecked. Fahrenheit 451 is a treatise on the importance of having literature to foster thought and debate. Watchmen posits a world where society has allowed its citizens to rely on vigilantes for its protection. Each dystopic work functions as a lesson, and those that best teach it at that precise moment in history, wedge themselves deepest into our collective conscious. Now a new series, called Cold War, by Christopher Sebela, through AfterShock Comics, arrives to teach its readers a new lesson and to bestow a new warning. Sebela has established a brutal future where people are cryofrozen and then thawed to fight in a corporation’s war. The story unfolds like a nightmare as readers witness these events through the eyes of multiple characters. It is a story about people who exist as pawns to corporations. A genius dystopian work from the very talented Chris Sebela.

So, what is Cold War about? It is about a future where people have agreed to be frozen until medicine become advanced enough to revive them. Basically, a concept that is ripped right out of today’s science. Once revived, the lives of these people, called cryonauts, quickly become terrifying as they are forced to fight against some unknown opponent on a strange planet. These people are given no orders or information, but only the weapons they will need if they are to survive. It is a fascinating read and one which sticks with you long after completion.

I had the sincere pleasure of interviewing Mr. Sebela.

Please describe your writing process.

Hm. Well, a lot of it has to do with procrastination. And stages. My usual process is, once I’ve confirmed a story is worth telling to me, I dedicate a fresh composition notebook to it and start writing down every thought I have about the book, the world, the characters and the story. Eventually, I get it all organized into outlining entire arcs and then I outline each issue page-by-page. Then I do a lot of other stuff when I should be writing and when it seems all hope is lost and I’m never gonna hit my deadline, I get to work and let the waves of fear combine with the days/weeks I’ve been thinking about this issue and I sit down and barf it out in one or two sessions. That’s kind of an ideal scenario. There’s a lot of times where I do all that and nothing comes out and then I just bang my head against the script until it’s done and fix it later. Fortunately, Cold War has been a lot of the former.

What inspired the creation of your book, “Cold War”? Why is AfterShock Comics the perfect destination for your series?

It was just an idle bar conversation I was having with someone and we joked about cryonic suspension and wouldn’t it be funny if when you finally woke up hundreds of years later with your body finally regrown and disease eradicated, and tons of money and they tell you you have to fight in a war that’s going on. Like, the ultimate dark joke. And something about it stuck with me for the last few years and I wrote it up into something that combines the hook with a roster of characters who I’m invested in and let it fly.

As for Aftershock, they were open to me doing the book how I wanted to do it and, if anything, they doubled down on my mission statement by getting Hayden Sherman on-board. I don’t know if this book would hit quite as hard without Hayden on board, he really leans in to the emotional trauma and chaos of the book, of putting the reader into the same headspace as our Cryonauts and letting them figure it out at the same visual speed. Plus I think Aftershock is doing a lot of books other publishers wouldn’t be so free about doing, it’s nice to have an editor and a publisher have your back and push you to go further.

I find Vinh to be an intriguing character. Her backstory is very Lady Macbethesque it seems. Considering her backstory, is her revived life that different from her old life? Does violence always adhere to violent people? 

It’s not that different, no. But I feel like none of our Cryonauts are all that different from who they were in a past life. People don’t, in my mind, make those huge dramatic leaps where they completely change who they are. Especially the older we get, the more entrenched we get with who we are, so it made sense to me that Vinh’s violence in her past life would carry over into this one. Same with Rook in our first issue. I think life is cruel in that it doesn’t care if you’re turning over a new leaf or changing for the better. Life will keep tossing the same things in your path. Considering how much she steeped in violence in her past life, it only makes sense that it would come back around in her new life, even as much as the circumstances have changed. Vinh is still Vinh.

Is Vinh’s story one of redemption? Do you believe that people are redeemable? Considering her very violent past, can she still be considered the hero of this series?

My thing with Cold War is I didn’t want any heroes. I don’t want anyone to be the star of the book. It’s a war book, in its DNA, and wars don’t have heroes. There are soldiers who step up and do impossible things, who go against all odds and drag victory out with them. But no soldier has ever decisively stopped the battle or ended war. They’re doing their little parts in a huge machine. So, to that end, I don’t think Vinh’s story is one of redemption, really, it’s forcible redemption if anything.

I think people can be redeemed, for sure. But it requires a raft of circumstances and thinking and wrestling with who you used to be. I think in a situation like the one Vinh finds herself in, there’s no room for introspection beyond her brief glimpses of her past memories, there’s just fighting and that reduces people down to a primal state of who they really really are.

There is something very allegorical, it seems, about having people revived from cryostasis to fight machine that was merged with dead people. Are you suggesting that violence and war are permanent aspects of the human condition? That to exist is to fight?

Yeah, to some degree. History certainly bears that out. We’re a restless species and war is an easy way to get tons of different parts of society to aim towards one thing. I don’t know that it’s the impulse of the individual but it seems to be one of the directives of civilization as a whole, that occasionally it has to go over and try to beat the shit out of another part of civilization for a variety of reasons. And as we go along, these wars become worse and more cynical and more full of hate. And lots of people get rich off the backs of it, so I don’t think to exist in this society, as such, is definitely to fight, or to be on the sidelines as the people who are meant to lead you do it anyway.

The goal of cryogenics is to grant immortality to people. In issue 2, one of the characters states that where they are is Hell. For the characters in this series, is immortality/reviving more of a gift (extended life) or a curse. Do these characters consider being revived worth it?

For these characters, 90 percent of them, it’s a huge curse. If you track the idea of Hell literally — a place you go after you die where you are punished — then this is definitely a kind of Hell. Most of the Cryonauts who are out there aren’t fighters or warriors, they’ve been taken from a life that made sense to one that doesn’t make any sense at all, in addition to the constant threat of death and dismemberment in front of them. I think the characters we’re focused on, our main Cryonauts, treat it as a bit more of a gift. But definitely a monkey’s paw brand of wish fulfillment. 

What can readers look forward to it in future issues of Cold War?

We’ve been setting up our main characters and we intend to dig deeper into each of them, right now and in their past lives, to see what brought them to get themselves frozen and what they might expect from a world with nothing to give them. Also, everything gets weirder and bloodier and we still haven’t even gotten around to introducing my favorite character of the whole book, but that’s coming soon. Also, more completely amazing artwork by Hayden Sherman. I’ve seen the next two issues all wrapped up and he just keeps getting better as we go.

Fantastic Realms with Jeremy Haun

Comics are often at their best when they act as a lens through which we can view an aspect of our world. What would happen to society if any one aspect was changed? How would our views and beliefs be irrevocably changed by the experience? The Walking Dead comics look at a society that has been ravished by a zombie plague as a way of exploring whether our humanity could survive the loss of society. There is an aspect of Superman comics that question society’s reaction to the presence of a savior. The Dark Knight movie explored concepts of escalation and how criminal elements would respond to an opposing force. But perhaps the most interesting example of lens viewing through art occurs with the addition of magic to an otherwise familiar world. This was done just recently in the movie, Bright, to mixed reviews, but far more effectively in Image’s The Realm, by Jeremy Haun and Seth Peck. This phenomenal series explores the effects on a society that has suddenly been inundated with creatures and other elements of magic. For instance, how does a scientist incorporate magic into the rigid world of math and physics? The series also explores our reliance on technology and what happens to society when those things that have become integral to our lives, fail us. The Realm is a deeply layered series and represents how comics exist as a way to explore ourselves and the society in which we live. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy Haun about his wonderful series.

But first, what is The Realm? It is a new series from Image Comics that explores what our world would be like if magical creatures entered our world fifteen years ago. The primary focus of this book is a band of survivors including an enigmatic character, named Rook, a scientist and his magically skilled apprentice, and their leader, Nolan. If living in a post-apocalyptic world was not enough, there is also an evil sorcerer who is bringing together dark forces to challenge them. The adventure then ensues at a frenetic pace filled with amazing visuals and standout action sequences.

The below interview has not been edited.

You are listed as co-creator with Seth Peck. Do you share co-writing duties? How does your partnership function?

We built the book together—creating the characters and world. We tight plot the issues together. Seth does a sort of classic Marvel style page by page script tougher. I take that, thumbnail it out, adding to and taking away. Sometimes not much. Sometimes adding a panel or two or changing a scene. Sometimes I add entire pages. There’s a lot of discussion in between. From there, I pencil and ink the issue. Seth goes in and does the final dialogue pass. It’s a nice process. No real ego to it. We just make the thing together and have fun along the way.

What inspired the creation of The Realm? Which literary works did you read for inspiration?

THE REALM is a mash-up of all of the things I grew up loving. The early eighties was a perfect time for sci-fi and fantasy flicks. I spent a lot of time walking through the local video store looking at the covers to Conan The Barbarian, Fire and Ice, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Beastmaster, Mad Max, and others. We were latchkey kids, so we’d rent this stuff on VHS and watch them in a buddy’s basement– probably earlier than we should’ve with some of them. We probably watched The Road Warrior fifty times. At the same time, I was playing Dungeons and Dragons and reading The Lord of The Rings and every Conan novel I could get my hands on. I wanted to capture just a little of that feeling– that time. THE REALM came out of that. It’s exactly the kind of book I want to be doing.

You have a fantastic and realistic art style. How has your art style informed how you approach The Realm? 

I’ve worked in comics for a good while now. A lot of that has been working on either street-level superhero stuff or crime/horror comics. With THE REALM I wanted to do something different. Sure there are elements of everything that came before in this book, but I wanted to take things up a notch or ten. For me, this book is all about epic scope– big moments and crazy action. I’m good at character stuff, so working towards that scale has been a welcome challenge. 

One of the keys to fantasy is figuring out how to make it relatable. Making a high fantasy book that’s set in a modern, “real world” setting goes a long way towards helping with that. There are crazy moments with dragons and creatures, but it’s all happening in a landscape that we’re connected to. We’ve been to, or at least seen, some of these places. We know these people. We can imagine living in a world like this…as tough as that’d be. 

I am fascinated by the character of David. He was Doctor Burke’s research assistant which places him in the world of science, but he also possesses magical powers. Is there any allegory between science/magic and science/religion that you see in your story? 

Sure. We’re reliant on technology so much in our lives. Hell– my cell phone unexpectedly died the other day and I was pretty much lost all week until I got a replacement. That’s a little scary. If we didn’t have easy access to this technology that we rely on it could easily lead to our destruction. 

In THE REALM these things appeared and effectively set off “magical EMPs”.  Without access to technology, the world fell to the forces of darkness. Magic won. Our characters are having to figure out how to survive with limited access to technology. 

In the story, David is a bridge between the old and the new. Burke was a man of science in a world of magic. David understands both. Maybe that’s how you save humanity. 

Rook is a badass from her actions to her look. Her look almost seems reminiscent of a superhero costume. Since comic books do exist in the world of The Realm, is it these that have influenced Rook or is it purely function? What influenced your design of her costume?

Rook has a whole story that we’re going to reveal as the book goes along. There’s a reason for her costume. It’s impossible to deny that her look may have been influenced by the pop culture of the world in THE REALM. But there’s more to it than that. 

When we started talking about the team we knew that we were going to have a masked character. That look evolved a lot. I probably did fifty variations on her mask/helmet. We finally came on one that did everything we wanted. It had the right level of cool look, mystery, and even a bit of function. 

I’m glad people seem to love the character as much as we do. She’s a hell of a lot of fun.

What can readers look forward to in future issues of The Realm?

Probably going to kill everyone. Like soon. Or not. 

We CAN say that after building such a huge world in the first arc, the second is going to let us get to know the characters more. We’re going to answer a few of the questions people are dying for…and adding a couple new mysteries into the mix.

We’ll see characters step up and become stronger for it. We’ll see exactly how brutal this world can be. And we’ll see owlbears. Owlbears are cool.

 

 

Waking the Dead with Frank Tieri

               Eight years ago, I wrote an in-depth article entitled, “How Far We’ve Come”, for a now-defunct webpage, called Project Fanboy. For the article, I had the opportunity to interview a professor of comics at The University of Florida, named Dr. Terry Harpold. To this day, I still remember what he said about why vampires and zombies experience waves of popularity at different times in our culture. He stated, “Vampire are popular when the economy is strong, and zombies become popular when the economy is poor.” Basically, it has to do with wish fulfillment. Vampires are predators. They appear powerful and in control and prey on the weak. Perhaps this explains the 1980s? Zombies represent an apocalyptic scenario where society has fallen apart, which reverts everyone back to an equal footing in life. This allows us all to fantasize that given an equal opportunity as everyone else, our own talents would enable us to lead and thrive. If this is true, it does explain why zombies have exploded in popularity over the past ten years. What I, personally, love about zombies is how they malleably they slide into any number of allegories. In Dawn of the Dead, zombies were used as a commentary on American consumerism. Zombies represented the power of love to make one feel alive in Warm Bodies. But perhaps the most fascinated use of zombies as an allegory, exists in Pestilence, by Frank Tieri, from AfterShock Comics. In this phenomenal series from Tieri, zombies act as an allegory for religious fanaticism. The series asks the reader to contemplate when one should question their faith. How does one come to terms with the will of God amidst the horrors of a plague?

If you have not picked up a copy of Pestilence, you should. The series reimagines the “Black Death” as being a lie meant to cover up a zombie plague. To combat this nightmare, the Church assembles the team, known as Fiat Lux. It is a team composed of believers, misfits, and murderers, and they’re the only hope humanity has of stopping the zombie outbreak. It is a dark tale and beautifully rendered, by Oleg Okunev. The first trade has arrived this month and Mr. Tieri is hard at work at volume 2.

 

I had the succinct pleasure of interviewing Frank Tieri about this book. The below interview has not been edited.

What inspired the creation of Pestilence? Was it a fascination with the time period of the Black Death/Crusades or with zombies that first crystallized the concept?

Pestilence is actually a joint creation between myself and Hollywood writers Eric Bromberg and Brandon Aumen. They had originally pitched the initial concept as a video game but decided to do it first as a comic with Aftershock– which is where I came in. Mike Marts, who I’ve worked with forever, knows I’m a big history buff and that I’d be perfect for this. So they came to me to do the comic– I hoped on board, developed the initial concept further and here we are.

How does Roderick Helms justify being a man of God and also a prolific killer of men? Does he believe God will forgive him for his many kills?

How did the Crusaders justify their many kills? Like them, Roderick believes his kills were in the service of God, in the name of the greater good. Fiat Lux is the assassin’s wing of the Church so he more than believes God will forgive his kills. He believes He sanctioned them

Is Helms’s faith changed by what he learns about what the church knew? Can he separate what a man does from what the church represents?

I think ultimately it’s a bit of both. When we pick up with Roderick in Volume 2, he’s essentially Clint Eastwood at the beginning of Unforgiven– cut off from the rest of the world, trying to lead a quiet life and put everything that happened to him in Vol 1 behind him. So yeah, his attitude at this point is he’s seen the evil the Church can do and that in his eyes, God allowed it. So to say that, while he still does believe in God and that there’s a higher purpose to everything and all that, he’s become quite disillusioned as well. He feels he’s done his part, at this point. Let God pick some other sucker to save the world next time.

The Pope tells Helms that it was the Devil who released the zombie plague upon the Earth. Is he correct or is this simply the perspective of a religious man?

No, it’s the Devil, alright– and we’ll see this even more play out in Vol 2. I think once we’ve established the existence of zombies in our world of Pestilence, having Satan himself behind it all ain’t that much of a stretch, ya know?

If the Devil did cause the plague, then where is God in all this? Does the God of Pestilence not care to act or does He care to act through others?

If the Devil exists in our world– and he does– then God does too. He’s not sitting on a throne in heaven with a long white beard or anything ridiculous like that, but He’s there. For example, in Vol 1, the cure turns out to be the Holy Grail itself. And we see in the chamber where Roderick finds the Grail that there’s also the Shroud of Turin, the Ark of the Covenant, etc– so the signs of God’s presence and power are there. And yes, it even could be argued that God acts through Roderick and Fiat Lux. Though at this point, Roderick def thinks He could make His presence a bit more felt and not make everything so damned hard for him to overcome.

 

When the rain falls that cures the zombie plague, does it rain everywhere or are there places still untouched by the cure and contains the zombies still?

That’s something we address more fully in Vol 2– right off the bat in issue 1, in fact. We see that the plague was only partially cured at the end of Vol 1, that only those affected who were in that select area were healed by the rain. Now with Vol 2, we pick up in 1351– 5 years after the events of Vol 2– and we see Cardinal Shaw now has the Holy Grail, having taken over it from Roderick and he’s the one primarily battling the plague. So yeah, it’s diminished a great deal but the threat is most definitely there. And in fact may soon become something even deadlier than before, as we’ll see in Vol 2 issue 1

James has been cured of the zombie plague, is he also changed by it?

Not only is he changed but everyone who was affected by the zombie plague has been. Something we pick up on in Vol 2 is that a cult has developed around the cured, calling themselves The Risen. They’re a sort of support group, created to try to understand what happened to them and why they were brought back. But in issue 1 of Vol 2 we see that despite their attempts to move on, something else is going on with them. Something that very much indicates that Satan might not be done with them quite yet

What can readers look forward to next from you?

Well, Vol 2 of PESTILENCE for sure where we’re back in the saddle with Roderick and the remaining members of Fiat Lux as the battle with Satan becomes more firsthand and deadlier than even it was before.

In non Pestilence related stuff, I’m currently writing HARLEY QUINN for DC and JUGHEAD: THE HUNGER for Archie, respectively. Then I have two gigs for the fine folks at Insight comics– MAFIA III: THE RISE AND FALL OF SAL MARCANO, which ties into the Mafia 3 video game and coming this summer, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE HARD, where John McClane has to deal with something deadly from his past that pops up 30 years after the events of the first movie. Fun stuff all around, kids.

On the Hero’s Journey with Matt Wagner

 

On the Hero’s Journey with Matt Wagner

 

Life is a journey we all traverse.  It is a voyage of innumerable paths and uncountable outcomes. While we might not be celebrities or paragons of some sport or field, we each still exist as the heroes of our story.  Our tragic flaws our own and our trials are unique to ourselves. Our personal struggles should never be diminished or mocked for we all must overcome our own to reach the apotheosis of our individual story.  If our stories reflect our existence, is it no wonder that heroes have existed as an integral facet of our literature for so many millennia? The Epic of Gilgamesh was a story told by the Sumerians and first compiled over three thousand years ago.  This epic poem of a super strong king is often considered the first great work of literature. Years later, the Greeks would create the demi-god, Hercules, Achilles, and Odysseus.  The Jews created Samson within the pages of the Torah- a man of incredible strength until his hair was cut. Hundreds of years later, pulp magazines would see the creation of heroes like The Shadow and Doc Savage. Finally, comics would give us Superman, Batman, and so many more. Each of these heroes existed in their time to inspire people to cope with their personal journey. Perhaps the perfect merging of the personal journey and creative outlet exists in Matt Wagner’s seminal work, Mage. A story that Wagner has been quoted as representing his “allegorical autobiography”.  Mage is an indie comic milestone that, over the course of thirty years, has culminated in his new series from Image Comics, called Mage: The Hero Denied.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of reading Mage, here is a very brief rundown. Volume one of Mage is called Mage: The Hero Discovered. It was first written in 1984 through Comico. Its protagonist is named Kevin Matchstick. To make a long story short, Kevin meets a character who is later revealed to be Merlin, who gave him a magic bat (revealed to be Excalibur) and is, basically, revealed to be King Arthur. In the next volume, Mage: The Hero Defined, Kevin joins a team of heroes, with each symbolizing a mythological hero. Kevin also meets a second mage, named Wally Ut. Along the way, Kevin fights supernatural threats, such as the Umbra Sprite. Got it?

 

I had the unique pleasure of interviewing Matt Wagner. The below interview has NOT been edited.

 

Please describe your writing process.

Well, I’m kind of an instinctual writer.  I’m a voracious reader so I feel like I’ve fully absorbed what it means to tell a good story over the years and that informs my process on a really primal level.  I always joke that I write like an artist and draw like a writer.  Following that thought, I even form the structure of my stories as if I were working on a piece of art.  For a regular-sized issue of a comic, let’s say, I start with a flow-chart of small rectangles, laid out to reflect how many pages are in that issue and paired up like they would be in the book, with the even numbered pages on the left and the odd ones on the right.  That way I can see the entire issue at a glance and I can see how it flows, where the high points and the quiet points are.  I then block out scenes over the number of pages that seem appropriate and I jot down the briefest possible description in each small page, usually just a word or two.  Sometimes it’s as simple as “THEY TALK” or a “FIGHT” that stretches over several pages.  Basically, I’m treating this stage of constructing my story as I would treat a sketch for a piece of art.  I then build it up from that foundation and flesh it out as I go, but this method helps me establish a solid structure.

 

You first worked on Mage thirty years ago. How has your approach to Mage changed over those years? How has your growth as a writer and person affected this?

One of the things I’m proudest about in regards to MAGE is the three very distinct stages of its progression.  Each Book of the trilogy has a specific look and narrative feel that really do reflect who I was/am as both a person and a creator at that time.  And yet, taken as a whole, all three parts are obviously the work of the same creator but at different points in his narrative journey.  I don’t think this story could’ve come to fruition in any other fashion…or any sooner.  The biggest reason for the extended length of time between each Book of the trilogy is that I had to live through that part of my life in order to look back and reflect on it.

 

You mentioned in an interview printed in the first issue of Mage: The Hero Denied, that Kevin Matchstick represents your “literary alter ego”. You also mentioned that the various series follow Joseph Campbell’s Hero Journey. Are you suggesting that everyone does, in some way, traverse the hero’s journey?

Certainly, Campbell would say so.  Or more accurately, I think he’d say that the entirety of human myth is built around a set of common themes exploring the adversities of life and the mysteries and finality of death.  Myths are the way we examine the crucial life-road along which we all must journey.  The Hero part reflects how successful we were along the way, whether we led a life filled with courage, compassion and curiosity as opposed to one consumed by pettiness, malice and greed.  Heroism comes in many forms and what I’ve always tried to do in MAGE is personalize that Hero’s Journey to reflect the conflicts and victories of my own life…what I’ve taken to calling an “allegorical autobiography.”  I don’t literally believe I’m living a fantasy adventure…but don’t we all face a litany of ogres and dragons over the course of daily routines?  So MAGE is my personal Hero’s Journey and I’d encourage everyone to reflect upon the course of their own lives and how well they’re living up to the ideal they envision in their hearts.

 

Kevin states that he was told that he would encounter three mages and that, so far, he has only met two of them. It is also suggested that magic may be hereditary. Is Hugo possibly going to become this third mage? If so, how will that alter their dynamic?

Well, no surprise I’m sure…but I’m not going to just casually reveal the identity of the third Mage in an interview.  All I’ll say is…it’s still a bit premature to be guessing with any certainty.

Why was/is Kevin hesitant to tell Hugo about the world of magic? What is the danger of Hugo being exposed to how things truly are? What is Kevin afraid will happen?

You’re forgetting the fact that Kevin has a body count in his wake.  He’s seen the Struggle take its toll on both his friends and his enemies.  In fact, he’s periodically haunted by the souls of his “failures”.  That’s not the sort of world you’d want to introduce to your child…even if it is how things truly are.  But, as with all parents, eventually you find yourself having to shepherd your offspring into the more grown-up world of dangers and consequences.  This is just a metaphor for the same challenges all parents face in regards to their kids.

 

What can readers look forward to in future issues of Mage: The Hero Denied?

 

Lots of surprises.  And, hopefully, the successful and satisfying culmination of a thirty+ year journey.

 

Raising Hell with Andrew Constant

 

Often in my introductions, I discuss comics as being the pinnacle of wish fulfillment. Through the adventures of our favorite superhero protagonists the meek can become confident, heroic, and powerful. Whether we are imagining ourselves as flying amongst the firmament or slowing down runaway vehicles, careening down the road, we are using comics for catharsis from an otherwise cruel and insignificant life. Similarly, there are those characters that allow ourselves to unleash emotions that the world causes us to bottle, such as anger. Literature is replete with characters who, for better or worse, are freed to unleash their darker impulses upon the world. Characters like Mr. Hyde, The Hulk, and werewolves have endured across generations due to the appeal of freeing ourselves from the constraints of our civility. Who among us has never wished to pour all our rage onto those who have wronged us? To rage is human. This may be what inspired the “King”, Jack Kirby, to create the DC character known as Etrigan the Demon in the 1970s. Since then, Etrigan the Demon has headlined multiple titles over the following decades with its 1990s incarnation having reached fifty-nine issues. Now Etrigan returns in grand style in the six-issue miniseries, called Demon: Hell is Earth, by a phenomenal scribe, named Andrew Constant.

So, who is The Demon? While the origin of Etrigan has changed with the advent of the New 52 and may, or may not, have been changed back during Rebirth, here are the basics.  In a nutshell, the story dates back to the days of Arthurian legend. Jason Blood is one of King Arthur’s knights. Also, Etrigan and Merlin are half-brothers with Etrigan also being the son of a top-level demon, named Belial. For reasons that change with who is telling the story, Merlin bonds Etrigan to Jason Blood. Whenever Blood utters the incantation, “Gone! Gone! –the form of man—Rise, the Demon Etrigan!”, he becomes the Demon. In all versions, the relationship between Etrigan and Blood is hostile; often bordering on complete enmity. Etrigan is most often depicted as manipulative, self-serving, and indifferent towards humanity. However, his power is unquestionable and, inevitably, necessary.

 

I had the good fortune to interview Andrew Constant. The below interview is unedited.

 

Please describe your writing process.

Honestly, I just get up and go to it. I know that sounds a bit glib, but each project is different, and each one requires a different approach.

Most of the time though, I’ll give a general idea of the story arc (if it’s multiple issues), write out a quick summary of the issue ahead of me, break down the issue VERY roughly, and get cracking. If I run into problems, I’ll put down my best version at the time, and come back to edit later on.

How did you get involved in writing The Demon: Hell is Earth? What attracted you to the character of Etrigan?

I pitched an idea and was lucky enough to have it accepted.

Etrigan is one of my favourite characters of all time, truly. He is the model of what a great anti-hero should be. I also love the fact that he’s not just a powerhouse but is a master manipulator.

Really, he’s everything I aspire to be (joking, honestly).

Much of Jason Blood’s character development often revolves around his reluctance to turn into Etrigan. Is his reluctance more about losing control of his self to the demon or is his reluctance more due to a fear of what Etrigan may do if left in control?

Well, Blood and Etrigan actually switch places when the rhyme is said (Blood goes to Hell as Etrigan comes to Earth), making the issue more to do with Blood’s understanding of who Etrigan is and what he can do. Imagine being the person attached to that type of chaos? It would most definitely ride your nerves, to say the least.

Is there pressure in writing a character that was first created by Jack Kirby? How does one walk in the footprints of legends?

There is pressure, but you really can’t think about that at all, or else it just becomes an obstacle to creating. You just have to concentrate on the job at hand, and let the other nagging thoughts slide away.

Etrigan states that his rhyming is a function of his will instead of his station in Hell. For which purposes does he rhyme?

He’s a rhyming demon, and that is his station, but I really think he just honestly loves doing it – brings a bit of poetry to his bloody antics.

In the first issue, Etrigan states that Blood’s ability to “keep [him] in is getting worse with every dream of that little darling”.  What is it about the little girl (Alicia) that is exasperating Etrigan’s hold on Blood?

That’s a wait and see…

 

At the end of the first issue, when Blood has turned into Etrigan, Jason Blood seems different/changed- more arrogant/cocksure. Why the change in his demeanor?

He’s having to confront Etrigan – anything less than the appearance of confidence would not work. And also, no more demonic voices in his head.

What can readers expect from future issues of The Demon: Hell is Earth?

Etrigan, big, hellish adventure…and the unexpected.

Mashing It Up with Ryan Ferrier

Mashing It Up with Ryan Ferrier

   

Comic books are amazing things. As children,  we get to revel in the dreams of seeing our favorite fictional characters square off in new and exciting ways. There are no limits to what our imaginations can achieve. In these dreams, it does not matter which company owns or controls which character, for our dreams know no legal boundaries. We dream these dreams and at moments it feels real and almost tangible, but sometimes, in our hearts, we want more. We want to see these fictional mash-ups happen in real life. We want to experience them unfold before us like some epic tale from times of legend. The great thing about comics is that, at times, we are fortunate enough to witness these mash-ups happen; written and drawn by the experts in the industry. For instance, before they were brought together on screen, Alien and Predator fought one another in the pages of Dark Horse comics. He-man has battled Superman and Lion-O. Marvel and IDW has brought us mash-ups with G.I. Joe and the Transformers. The list can go on and on with each fulfilling the wishes of some kid or some adult who is a kid at heart. This type of wish fulfillment mash-up is what is at the heart of Kong on the Planet of the Apes from Boom! Studios; an idea so succinctly perfect that it is a wonder no one has put the idea to paper until now. Thanks to Ryan Ferrier’s genius scripting, fans can finally experience this amazing what-if.

King Kong is one of the most recognized properties in cinema history. There are probably few people who do not know the basics of Kong’s story. He is a massive gorilla that lives on Skull Island; a place full of dinosaurs and monster-like creatures. Kong’s most recent appearance in cinema occurred recently in the hit movie, called Kong: Skull Island. It proved a huge success and will undoubtedly spawn future sequels and a mash-up with Godzilla in the near future.

Planet of the Apes is a concept created by Pierre Boulle. The concept centers around an American astronaut, named Taylor, who finds himself on a planet, like our own, which is ruled by apes and where humans are prey. This planet turns out to be our own but in the far future. From this concept arose a five-movie franchise and television show, one remake from Tim Burton, and a reboot/prequel trilogy that is a work of art by Matthew Reeves and Andy Serkis.

 

Below is my interview with Ryan Ferrier. The interview is unedited.

Please describe your writing process.

I’m a bit of an outline junkie, admittedly, so a fair amount of my process is spent in ideation and breaking down the story and scenes. I start really loose, getting as much info out as I can in note form, then I’ll gradually whittle it all down into a structured outline which I’ll then figure out scene-by-scene and issue-by-issue. By the time I get to scripting I like to generally have a solid idea of what’s happening on each page. Then I get that script out and down, and revise, revise, revise.

King Kong and The Planet of the Apes seems like a perfect mash-up. Whose idea was it? How did you get involved with this project?

It really does seem perfect, right? I was approached by my brilliant BOOM! Studios editor Dafna Pleban with the possibility, but there was no real story idea; that was up to me. Luckily, after some creative jamming, we found this story and it’s been a dream to work on.

In plotting this story, which Planet of the Apes movies, books, and comic books were used for inspiration for this series? Which works are you considering canon for your series?

Undoubtedly the first two original films, Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes, were the biggest touchstone for this series, as we are sticking to the original film continuity. For the Kong content, we’re remaining faithful to Joe DeVito’s novel, King Kong of Skull Island. Since this story takes place thousands of years in the future, we have a little more wiggle room on the Kong side of things, but everything goes past the license-holders for approvals. Everything has been so warmly received by those involved, which has been just wonderful.

The Planet of the Apes series has always acted as an allegory for aspects of our society. In melding this series with that of King Kong, what is the overarching allegory of this series?

We’re definitely taking a look at an aspect that’s not entirely seen in the Apes franchise, being that of the ape society’s religion itself. In particular, we’re seeing what happens when the lines between faith and science are blurred, and how that can be either used for great things or exploited for selfish reasons. We’re also exploring the utter destruction that comes with both trying to inject oneself into another’s history, and the perils of harnessing immense power. As with many Apes stories, the fight against authority is pretty present throughout.

Zaius is often portrayed in a villainous way in the various Planet of the Apes works. Do you view Zaius as a villain in this series? Is the concept of villain too simple a concept for the world of The Planet of the Apes?

Dr. Zaius is certainly a more nuanced villain; he’s more Lex Luthor than Doomsday, is we’re comparing antagonists. I do, however, see Zaius as being a villain, absolutely. He’s so smart and manipulative, and after the events of the first film, the curtain has been lifted on his doings. Just because he thinks he’s acting on the benefit of the apes, doesn’t at all mean his decisions are justified. Zaius knows he’s doing things that come at a cost to others. Ursus, on the other hand, is the true big villain, but in his head he’s completely justified, which is so much more dangerous.

In the series, it is revealed that a female Kong is dead. Does that mean King Kong is the last Kong?

Precisely! The Kong that washes up on the Forbidden Zone shore was the last female of the species; the “Queen,” as it were. So the Kong we see in the rest of the series is definitely the very, very last of the giant apes.

Zaius has left for Skull Island to reunite the various factions of apes that exist back home. On this island, Zaius meets with intelligent humans. How would this impact Zaius’s ape society? Will he dare reveal this truth to the other apes?

With the fallout from the first film—astronaut Taylor’s arrival—being so severe and shifting the landscape of Ape City, the last thing Zaius wants is to introduce intelligent humans to the society. There’s already a rising tide of pro-human apes, and that would fuel the fire for even more chaos. We’re really excited about the new character, Ni’Ta, whose role in the series will deal with this very issue.

What can readers look forward to in future issues of this series?

It’s going to get absolutely wild. There is some big, big action and devastation about to go down, and characters are going to clash in a major way. I’m also incredibly excited for the utterly bonkers finale that we have in store. I think it’s really going to please readers and fans, and leave a lot of jaws hanging.

 

Getting Schwifty with Kyle Starks

We live in a universe of infinite possibilities. In fact, as our knowledge of quantum physics expands, it seems ever more likely that we live amongst infinite universes, each with their own innumerable potentialities. When gazing upon the horizon of knowledge that suggests anything imaginable is also, somewhere, probable, then should not our creativity expand to incorporate all the philosophical/moral questions that this new epiphany enables? Of course, for those of us who are dreamers, the answer is of course “yes”. We exist to wonder, and the universe seems to wish to encourage it.  But how best to elicit these questions is a quandary the great thinkers of history of struggled to answer. It seems the best way in which to engage with an easily distracted public is through art. Entertain a person, and an author can lead a reader along any path in which the author wishes to take them. The more creative the art, the more potent its effect. In fact, satire seems the most compelling delivery method for encouraging reflection and thought. Ample evidence is present to anyone who has watched the groundbreaking television, called Rick and Morty; created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland. In just three seasons, the show as demonstrated an incredible ability to layer levels of subtext within a seemingly simplistic story and vulgar humor. Perhaps, this is why the show has proven so popular with a wide range of age groups. But do not be fooled by this animated show’s surface humor and crazy characters, this show is revealing truths and posing difficult social and philosophical questions with each episode with the surprising dexterity of its complex characters. Unfortunately, the show contains few episodes per season and its audience has had to experience long spans of time between season. Luckily, fans have been able to get their fix in the comic series of the same name, from Oni Press, written by the incomparable Kyle Starks. Luckily, Mr. Starks has proven to be able to instill the same layered subtext and wry humor as the television show. This is an ability that has also proven highly effective for Starks when writing his other series, called Rock Candy Mountain.

 

For those poor souls who have no idea what Rick and Morty is, here is a very simplified version of the series. Rick and Morty, is a witty satire that began as a spoof of the Back to the Future movies. It is about a character, named Rick, who is not just the smartest man in our universe, but in ALL possible universes. He has reconnected with his daughter, Beth, after a twenty-year absence. In those twenty years, Beth has married a loser, named Jerry, and had two kids- Summer and Morty. For reasons only truly known to Rick, he takes Morty on insane journeys through all of space and its infinite universes. But, seriously, watch the show and read the comic. No writer can do the show justice in only a few sentences.

Rock Candy Mountain is a comic about a Hobo, named Jackson, who, prior to World War 2, made a pact with the Devil. This deal stipulates that no man can kill Jackson. Why did Jackson make this deal? So he could survive the war to reunite with his wife and child. Unfortunately, his family does not survive. Jackson decides to travel the United States to seek out the mythic Rock Candy Mountain, which is an equivalent to paradise. On his tracks is the Devil, who feels that he has been cheated in his deal with Jackson. Got it?

 

I had the great fortune to talk to Kyle Starks about both series. The below interview has not been edited.

 

Please describe your writing style.

I told one of my peers about how I wrote once and he called it Comic Book Improv- which I feel has sort of stood the test of time as a pretty clear explanation of what I do. But to break it down, I tend to tell myself my stories over and over in my head until they’re just right. Then I do some logistical breakdowns: how many pages is each issues, how many issues – then once I have what bullet points happen in each issue I sort of plot how many pages I get to make it to each point and then just start drawing and making it up as I go. I think for comedy and action – which I believe are my forte – that being organic and letting them breathe goes a long way, but you also have to plan for what is going to take up the most space. So, a little planning and then getting straight to it.

 

Is there a difference to your writing approach between writing your creator-owned work, “Rock Candy Mountain”, and writing for licensed property like “Rick and Morty”? What is the fundamental difference if there is one.

There are surely differences, first of all, I’m not writing for myself to draw. I’ll do a ton of panels on a page to get the pace and tone I want for a book, but I’d never ask someone else to do that much work unless it was absolutely crucial to the story. Secondly, since I’m writing for another property I have to make sure I get the tone and voices just write, which can be daunting. I tend to do less “improv” with Rick and Morty or my other licensed book Dead of Winter, because you’re shepherding someone else’s babies and you want to make sure they stay close to what they’re meant to be and what people expect. Also, you know, a lot less profanity and egregious violence.

 

All of the characters in the “Rick and Morty” universe have very distinct personalities. How do you find each of their voices? Which characters present more of a challenge for you?

I rewatch the show a ton before I do any Rick and Morty script to refind the rhythm and beat of their voices and the general tone of the show. At this point, I couldn’t even guess how many times I’ve seen each episode but I love them every time. The most difficult character for me to write is definitely Jerry. He’s so pathetic and selfish and it’s a headspace I find very difficult to get into. Jerry is the most challenging for me, for sure.

 

In issue 30 of “Rick and Morty”, Beth is depicted as being quite depressed with her life. Whose recognition is she really looking for? Do you think any part of her wanted to take Davin up on his offer to run away with him?

I mean, the show is very clear that she’s always looking for her father approval, in Issue 30 there’s a head-nod to the running joke that no one respects her as a medical professional because she’s a horse surgeon but in 30 her search for validation or approval weren’t really the heart. I really wanted to do an issue that showed the day to day challenges of her work life and its inherent dramas along with what it’s like to be a part of the family from her perspective. I really hope to do another Beth-centric issue. I think Season 3 showed some new aspects to her that didn’t exist before.

 

In Rock Candy Mountain, Jackson’s deal with the Devil very clearly states “No one MAN will be able to defeat you in combat”.  Does this imply that a WOMAN can?

No spoilers but Issue 6 is in stores now!

 

Jackson has sold his soul to the Devil and killed. Can he still be a good man after doing these things? Is redemption possible?

Man, this is a tough question. I think, and if you haven’t read through 6, and especially 5, I may be entering spoiler area here so maybe stop reading this interview, but – I think for Jackson, the gist is that as soon as he was asked to go to war, and therefore kill other men he was doomed from any sort of Heavenly Reward and in the moment that was unavoidable, so he did what he could to be with his family and when that didn’t work out he became obsessed with finding the alternative, the Rock Candy Mountain. I think that you can be a good person if you’ve made mistakes in the past, I think redemption is absolutely possible. That’s a complicated moral question though I suspect smarter people than me are really capable of addressing and I think in the case of the book that one could argue that Jackson still isn’t a good person – he’s selfish and manipulative to achieve his goal. I think he’s good – I think his intentions are benevolent and that he wants good people to have good lives, but he will also stop at nothing for his end goal.

 

If there is a Devil, does that imply that there is a God? If so, does that mean that both Jackson, and Jackson’s deal, is part of God’s plan?

While that specifically is never addressed in the book I think since there is definitely a devil, that implies there is very likely a Hell, which means probably a Heaven and maybe a God. I think religion is complicated and I think the Devil we see is so literal that it could be just whatever cultural iteration of that type of character is in the manner they expect to see it? I think it’s fair to say that in Rock Candy Mountain there is probably an afterlife – but that doesn’t definitely mean there’s a Rock Candy Mountain.

 

What can readers look forward to in upcoming issues of Rick and Morty and Rock Candy Mountain?

Well, Rock Candy Mountain will be wrapping up with it’s two part finale with 7 and 8 and it’s going to be a wild conclusion with tons of epic fights, a war, a huge chase, a heist, the literal Devil, magic! Hobos! Yard Bulls! And I think a ton of emotion and closure too. I’m really proud of this book and the story I got to tell – which is exactly the 8 issues I propose to Image from the get go. I think it’s one of my best works, I think it’s fun and exciting and unique to the industry and hopefully will stand the test of time and will bring in a ton of fans with the second and final trade.

With Rick and Morty you can expect more Rick and Morty shenanigans. I’m currently on the book through issue 45 which means, I will have done at that point, for sure, nearly 27 issues of content and the show, as of today, has 31 episodes – so I’m imminently proud of that number and that achievement. Oni has been really good to me to let me run with these boys as long as I’ve wanted and I’ve loved doing it. We’ve got a great team with Marc Ellerby taking over regular art duties and Ari Yarwood has been a great editor to work with who really takes us adding to the show’s universe very seriously. In regards to what to LITERALLY expect? Vampires? Dinosaurs? Space Jail? I mean, I don’t want to say TOO much. We’ve got a lot of plans for Rick and Morty.