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Author Archive for Hannah Means Shannon

Giant Robots, Ninja Turtles, Monster Motors And More – Talking With Nick Roche

By Spencer Ellsworth

NICKNick Roche got his start as a comics artist at IDW Publishing, illustrating and soon writing the company’s incarnation of Transformers. He’s best known for the incredible Last Stand of the Wreckers (co-written with James Roberts), a sort of Saving Private Ryan with giant robots. He has also worked on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the creator-owned Monster Motors with MINIONS screenwriter Brian Lynch, and for Marvel, New Warriors and Death’s Head (2014 incarnation).

Recently, he’s been the house artist for British rock band, The Darkness, providing cover artwork for their album, Last Of Our Kind, and directing the music video for their single, ‘Barbarian.’ He has a reputation for shattering trousers with his artwork. We’ll find out what that’s about shortly.

Spencer Ellsworth: Last Stand of the Wreckers was really, to me, a great war movie—a one-­in-­a-­million mission, green soldiers and hardened veterans, and a bittersweet ending steeped in the fog of war. Is Sins of the Wreckers along the same lines?

Nick Roche: Some of the soldiers actually WERE green. Some were brown. One was purple.

Sins of The Wreckers is actually quite different—more of a mystery. The head of Autobot Intelligence – and permanent thorn in the Wreckers’ side – Prowl, has disappeared. According to an automated message triggered by his abduction,there’s only one Autobot dogged enough that he trusts with his retrieval, and that’s the leader of the Wreckers, Springer. The problem being… Springer is in a coma, and has been since the end of Last Stand Of The Wreckers. And those members of the team that survived the original series with their limbs (if not their psyches) intact, have scattered to the four winds.

Though an Autobot, Prowl is a pragmatic schemer – a ‘Mechiavelli’, [pun intended] who knows where all the bodies from the four million-plus years of war are buried. If he’s missing, the delicate peace between the Autobots and the Decepticons could crumble, and the whole galaxy could learn that the “Heroic Autobots” have a very tenuous claim to their prefix.

Prowl’s former right-hand woman, Arcee decides to take charge of the investigation, dragging Springer’s mentor and grizzled old gruffamuffin, Kup, with her.

The series has a slow, creepy start to it; the opposite of the prison assault of Last Stand. It takes place in a desolate, snowy landscape, drawing old adversaries and new allies together to rescue someone who has screwed them and everyone else over for eons.

Basically, it’s ‘What If The A-Team Had To Rescue The Colonel They Were Running From’.

‘With Robots.’

‘In The Snow’.

BC Tease 01SE: On that note, what attracts you to telling this kind of story? Certainly Transformers doesn’t seem to lend itself to deep, thought­-provoking stories. (We fans differ, but Michael Bay has kind of ruined things for the popular perception.)

NR: That’s the thing, isn’t it? It was almost ‘cool’ (whatever that means) for twenty minutes in 2007 to be into Transformers, or be associated with it. Three subsequent less-good films have sort of painted Transformers back into the corner I used to be found cowering in, mocked for my devotion as a “too-old” teenager. But there have ALWAYS been creators that brought their A+ game to it; Simon Furman on the original Marvel run, fleshing out plastic archetypes, adding depth and honour to one-note Hulks like Grimlock, plucking no-marks like Thunderwing and crafting them into creepy zealots, or creating characters like Impactor (star of Sins Of The Wreckers, named by Kieron Gillen as the #1 UK Comic Character), then causing a generation of little boys to weep manfully when he was killed—TWICE.

Currently James Roberts and John Barber on the two flagship titles from IDW, Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye and Transformers (formerly Robots In Disguise), are simultaneously laying mile-deep foundations and constructing star-scraping new elements to these thirty-plus year old characters. Shout-out to Mairghread Scott on the Windblade series, a female-centric Transformers title that feels creator-owned in its dedication.

The two main books are dragging in new readers—a staggering amount of them female, flying in the face of what some expect from the franchise—because of the writers’ desire to craft good stories first and foremost. That’s been my aim too, going all the way back to my first writing gig on Spotlight: Kup; Good comic first, good Transformers comic second. We can’t give people any excuse to dismiss the work we do, so we write these characters like we own them. Why would a reader spend her hard-earned time and money on this universe if it didn’t matter to the people who built it?

Characters are the main focus, especially in Wreckers. Whereas More Than Meets The Eye regularly deals with romantic (and same-sex… ish) love amid the space operatics, I’ve always been drawn to writing about it through my Kup stories, the first Wreckers, and even my Megatron one-shot. Love and loyalty are too universal to ignore, or think that you can’t apply them to alien shape-changing robots—a concept no more daft than ‘Underpants man from dead planet has come to save us all’—so ultimately, that’s what this series is about. The loyalty and love the remaining Wreckers have for their comatose leader; the love Verity Carlo, our human protagonist had for her fallen friend, Ironfist; or even the love that someone could carry for a character like Prowl.

One of the most heartening comments I get from time to time is that Wreckers was not only some people’s first Transformers comic, but it turned them onto comics in general. The Megatron one-shot I wrote was packaged with a Megatron toy, and sold across the planet. There’s a huge chance that was some kid’s first comic, so there’s a huge responsibility to pull a reader in, and never let them leave the medium again.

There’s something in these books, and this series, for everyone to enjoy. They just need to check their prejudices and look past the fact that the hero might turn into a car now and then.

SE: Last Stand of the Wreckers was also “a story about redshirts.” Do you have a weakness for cannon fodder?

NR: I think it’s a fondness for the underused, part of which stems from Simon Furman’s ability to sell a shelf-warming toy like Carnivac—a bog-standard figure that Furman imbued with a cast-iron code of honour, turning from Decepticon to uneasy Autobot—with a few deft character beats. But mainly, it’s because all the A-Listers are used elsewhere! And often, they have a convoluted history, or a waiting list of writers hoping to use them. By filling Wreckers with characters people have never heard of (and the team were always constructed from the odd, unloved toys going back to the 80s) it’s like we’re creating the characters fresh for the new reader. Simon’s maxim when drafting the IDW Transformers universe was ‘If it’s been done before, don’t do it again’, meaning any character traits or relationships from earlier iterations of Transformers are off the table. Anything can happen now. And it’s wonderful to have that freedom, doing what I want with characters like Hubcap and Stakeout, who I’m nearly certain weren’t going to headline the next movie, or expected to outsell Force Awakens merch this Christmas.

SE: How does the final line of Last Stand, “life persists,” set the stage for Sins?

NR: Man, that’s my FAVOURITE question I’ve been asked about Sins to date! It’s a HUGE part. In Last Stand, those words are written by Verity Carlo in her journal after watching the massacre of her comrades on an alien planet. What does ‘Life Persists’ mean for mechanical beings that live for millions of years compared to what it might mean for a human being— This human being in particular? Is that a code she can cling to to get her through tough times, or was it a naive thing crafted to offer her some comfort in a moment of loneliness?

BC Tease 02SE: Verity Carlo, the snappy human heroine of Last Stand, returns in Sins. Tell us a little bit about where she is, and why you chose to go back to her story.

NR: She’s the match the ignites the plot. Sins is a direct sequel to Last Stand, and when last we saw Verity, she was holding a copy of the Aequitas Files, which was essentially Autobot War Crime logs. The Autobots are the good guys; they’re not supposed to be involved in things like this, but that’s not the case when Prowl is pulling the strings. She holds Prowl responsible for the death of her friend Ironfist, a Wrecker sent to retrieve that data in Last Stand, and, knowing what’s contained on the data-drive, decides to contact Prowl with threats to make the contents public.

This is where the ‘Wreckerleaks’ strand comes into it; does the world need to know the secrets of those who claim to protect it? And what would someone do to ensure those secrets remain sealed…?

When we meet her in this series, she’s alone, scared and not in great shape. She feels used and abandoned by the Autobots, so with nothing to lose, commits to honouring the memory of her fallen friend.

Artistically, it’s great to be able to break up all the tech-y drawing with a more organic figure. She contextualises the Wreckers; They’re only giant alien robots if there’s someone smaller from another planet with them. Also, I sometimes feel that it’s the lack of human identification figures in Transformers comics that scares away potential new readers, though the opposite can be true for longtime fans: after a few dud fleshy sidekicks, there’s a strong preference for robo-centric tales, and I get that.

SE: What attracts you to the Wreckers in particular?

NR: Again, they’re not massively tethered to huge Black Hole characters like Optimus Prime and Megatron, who pull all stories and events into them like forces of nature, and you know that very few changes that occur with them are permanent (Though Megatron has been an Autobot for nearly two years now…).

It feels like I’ve been given a proud little allotment to tend to as I see fit, while mechanised farming on an industrial scale draws in great yields in the land all around me. Sure, their produce is meticulously delivered to one and all, but have you tasted my aubergines? Plus, there’s the conflict element. The Wreckers are a brash bunch of characters, too rough to fit into the Autobot rank and file, and all carry with them mountains of horrible historical trauma and psychological damage.

I’m making the most of the autonomy though. The various settings in Sins, primarily Nome, Alaska, is giving me great scope for set pieces, and I can guarantee at least one thing per issue you’ve never seen done before, and especially not in a Transformers comic. And collaborator/colourist Josh Burcham is just hitting career peaks of greatness here, and bringing the perfect atmosphere to this slower, more mysterious tale. We’re leaning heavily on the ‘odd.’

BC Tease 03SE: You’re not the only artist on Sins as well–tell us a bit about the cover artists and beautiful variants we’ll see.

NR: We have the best of the IDW crop of Transformers artists—all the well-kept secrets and unsung heroes of the comics industry—handling a strand of variant covers. The loose theme there is ‘Greatest Battles of The Wreckers’ so those guys (and gals) get to depict classic iterations of the team’s line-up. Announced so far on those covers are Alex Milne and Andrew Griffith, both trying to outdo each other, and make me look vaguely amateurish in the process. I’ve cashed in my blackmail chips outside of the robo-playground too, and have grabbed some friends with high indie-and-mainstream profiles to take a stab at a Wrecker of their choice.  We have guys who you’d never associate with these characters bringing something that their fans, and readers of Transformers, won’t expect: Declan Shalvey, Stephen Mooney and David Lafuente, with more over the coming months. It’s a huge vote in favour of the book itself that this lot have come along to play.

SE: On another subject, you just did some art for The Darkness’s album, which made its way into a motion ­comic video. Tell us about that.

NR: Happily! Like my adolescent Transformers loyalty, I have no problems proclaiming myself a fan of the band. As a frustrated show-off, their theatricality appealed to me, along with the music, intersecting with my love of vein-tensing cock rock, something the 1986 Transformers Movie soundtrack is wholly responsible for. I knew I had some down time before Sins was greenlit for production earlier in the year, so I fired them a tweet ahead of their upcoming album/tour in case they needed some merch designed. If they hadn’t responded, I was going to do some creator-owned stuff. But they got back to me pretty swiftly once they’d seen my samples, and I ended up stepping in as their album artist when an earlier plan fell though.

The cover direction was all them; the painted look isn’t a method I’d really worked in before, and the concept of the space pilot baby was locked in, so I just executed their idea basically. I had a lot more freedom on their motion-comic video for Barbarian, storyboarding the whole thing and working up the direction and gags.

As a bonus, I’ve become quite pally with them on a personal level. I have no idea what they were like in 2003, but at this point, they’re all a bunch of unfailingly warm gents who’ve just looked after me in so many ways over the year. And Justin’s a fan of my work! I got a text from him after he’d read Spotlight Kup telling me how upset he felt for the deranged old coot. I’m considering it fanmail. There’s more to come from me with them too. And the new album’s a genuine belter. Anthemic and melancholy. Like Sins Of The Wreckers.

SE: Will we see any more Monster Motors?

NR: One should never big up one product while trying to promote another, but Monster Motors (written by Brian Lynch, coloured by Len O’ Grady) might be my favourite ever gig. As freeing as Wreckers is, nothing beats designing entire characters, vehicles and environments from scratch. The idea behind it is ‘What if the Classic Monsters were now vehicles?’ So you have a cobbled-together truck called Frankenride, driven by mechanic Vic Frankenstein, aided by his robot sidekick iGOR (intelligent Garage-Operated Robot) and monster hunter, Minivan Helsing as they thwart the hordes of gaz-sucking vampire car, Cadillacula. Brian wrote this year Minions movie, which is looking like it’ll break even, so knows how to pitch an all-ages thrill ride that’s part Dan Harmon, part Joe Dante, and part Pixar. Yes, there will be more Monster Motors in some form, and hopefully as a comic. Love it.

SE: In a sort of weird unpaid compliment, your designs have inspired a whole bunch of toys, including unauthorized third party Transformers, and even an official Hasbro figure, Springer. How does it feel to see your drawings in plastic?

NR: A thrill. An unexpected thrill. Before the IDW era, the comics had no effect on the toys; the medium was in thrall to the plans of Hasbro; we got their designs and used them. But Chris Ryall at IDW gave his creators autonomy with building the new universe, and the parent company – staffed by fans themselves – made the most of what the comics had done, and realised in genius feats of engineering with the work of artists like EJ Su, Don Figueroa, Alex Milne, and myself.

Their Springer figure is RIDICULOUS. It’s his design from Last Stand Of The Wreckers, ripped from the pages, and reborn in solid plastic.

I like to design my Transformers to be characters first, with a look and physicality to them that says something about who they are. So maybe that’s what’s appealed to Hasbro and the other companies about my style. I’d love to get back to doing some actual design or production artwork for Hasbro again at some point, when the comic stuff isn’t so hectic.

SE: Did you get free copies of the figures?

NR: Ah. Now. I’ve heard of SOME creators getting toys, but despite there being an Ultra Magnus, Brainstorm, Sandstorm, etc. based on some of my artwork, no freebies. Yet. But you go into it knowing its the deal. Work For Hire, and all that.

SE: How did you get a reputation for shattering trousers? Was this something that started when you were young?

NR: Ha! It’s an phrase that’s followed me since I used it to describe the feeling of receiving emails with scripts, praise and -sometimes- death threats from my idol, Simon Furman back when I started at IDW. He’d written my whole damn childhood; HE’S the guy that opened me up to comics in general, and engendered a love of reading. Simon was writing a comic for eight-year-olds, but treating them as equals, expanding minds and vocabularies in his wake. And the guy bleeds story; the purest comic-book scripts you’ll ever read. An artist’s dream. A trouser’s nightmare.

SE: Finally, the most serious question of all: who would win in a fight between Grimlock and Cadillacula?

NR: Cadillacula possesses the ability to hypnotise other machine before drawing their lifeforce from them. He’s an immortal genius. Grimlock is a badass, but he’s Grimlock. And look at that delicious dino neck.

Now, if you’re asking Cadillacula versus IMPACTOR….

Thanks, Nick! Sins of the Wreckers is out November 18th. We’ll have to wait on word of a Monster Motors/Wreckers crossover.

Giant Robots, Ninja Turtles, Monster Motors And More – Talking With Nick Roche

Processing The Troop: Behind The Page With Joshua Cassara

Posted by Olly MacNamee

PageprocessWith our recent coverage of Noel Clarke and Joshua Cassara new comic The Troop debuting from Titan Comics December 9th at a comic shop near you, we asked Cassara whether he could share the procedures he takes from pencil, to pen to printed page. This is what he kindly shared with us here at Bleeding Cool HQ:

‘Generally I will read the script a couple times and take some notes on questions or ideas I have for Noel.  Then spend a full day or two breaking it down and thumbnailing the whole issue to send to Noel and my editor Steve for their approval/notes.

thumbnail-p1Page 1 thumbnail & pencil/ink/color:  I will pretty much thumbnail out the whole story depending on the the script, just to make sure everything flows and fits so I’m not stuck in a jam late in the issue.  All the important information is usually all right there in my thumbs.  I then layout my pencils on a new board.  My pencils aren’t generally this tight because I ink my own work, but I think I wanted to get off on the right foot on the first page here.  I don’t usually do a rough then light box because of time constraints.  I ink straight over my pencils.  Just ink and water, with whatever tool will get the job done or I feel like using that day.  I draw like my work could stand alone as a B&W comic by doing some gray tones/washes.  But then you see the amazing colors and palette Luis lays on top of my doodles. It’s incredible work especially the way he separates the foreground and background elements.  He’s definitely putting his own stamp on this series.  He’s got great instincts and makes me look way better (which is what we all want!)…

HotdoggingHot Dog panel: maybe my favorite panel of the issue, just because we all know most of us would use our powers for these sort of mundane things.

StephanieStephanie/Terrain concept:  For this character Noel wanted a girl who completely turned into rock, but also kept her feminine figure and not into some giant granite monster.  Here I wanted to give him some texture options to choose from.’

Olly MacNamee teaches English and Media, for his sins, in a school somewhere in Birmingham. Some days, even he doesn’t know where it is. Follow him on twitter @ollymacnamee or read about his exploits at olly.macnamee@blogspot.co.uk. Or don’t. You can also read his articles fairly frequently at www.bleedingcool.com too.

Processing The Troop: Behind The Page With Joshua Cassara

What Bengal Wants: More Wolverine Covers & Work With Rick Remender

By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu

?When I met the fan-favorite comic book artist called Bengal at the Magnetic Press booth (thanks to the awesome David Dissanayake) during SDCC 2015, he was sketching cards for a fan. Soon as he was done, he spared me some time for the short interview below. Born in 1976, he has always read comics, before his art skills began to show at about age 10. Huge in France, he’s currently enjoying success in the U.S comics industry, doing covers for Marvel and a ton of stuff for DC Comics.

Excerpts:

Abdulkareem Baba Aminu: What are you working on for Marvel right now?

Bengal: At the moment, I’m feeling blessed to have been doing covers for All-New Wolverine, the new series in which X-23 takes up the mantle. I’m doing a total of 3 covers, as far as I know right now, but I’d be happy to do as many as I can.

?ABA: You’ve done some work for hot indie publisher Magnetic Press. What are you working on for them right now?

Bengal: They’re releasing some of my French language stuff, translated for English-speaking readers. Also, possibly, we might release a version of my sketchbook which sold out in France. I’ve been talking with Mike [Kennedy, Publisher of Magnetic Press] and we will do it with bolder layouts, more recent work added and such. Maybe next year or so.

Then there’s World of Cassyno, also for Magnetic Press and it’s a deck of playing cards with a story world complete with its own mythology, with each card showcasing a specific character with their own backstory and special talent. It was such fun to create, with incredible guest artists like Joe Madureira, Mahmud Asrar, Marguerite Sauvage, Claire Wendling, Enrique Fernandez, and Bryndon Everett.

But for the foreseeable future, I’ll be doing stuff for DC Comics.

Bengal Pic 3

ABA: You’re now a major in the American comic book scene. Which writer do you most want to work with?

Bengal: Easy. That would be Rick Remender. I love his writing. His stories have a nice pace to them and the dialogue is beautiful, and characters he writes always sound natural.

Bengal Pic 4ABA: You have a unique name. How did you come to be called Bengal?

Bengal: Ah, when I was a kid, I was a huge fan of the Bengal cat, which is a really cool cat, kind of like a domestic leopard or something. So I took on the name.

Bengal Pic 6ABA: How did you break into comics?

Bengal: About eight years ago, I had the opportunity to be in touch with C.B Cebulski, who is basically Marvel’s Superman, if you know what I mean. He’s a super-nice editor and he offered me an opportunity to work on Spider-Man but the Marvel universe at that time was really complicated, just before the One More Day event took place. In the end it didn’t happen and of course I was bummed out for some time.

I went on doing work for French publishers and sending portfolios to Marvel and DC. Last year, at about the same time, both publishers tapped me to do work for them. It was an amazing coincidence. So, within the same month, I was asked to do work for the Big Two and I was like ‘Woo-hoo!’ Things soon became crazy, but in a good way and I had to stop my French projects so I could work full-time for U.S publishers.

Bengal Pic 8Abdulkareem Baba Aminu is a newspaper editor, award-winning journalist and comic book creator based in Nigeria. He has reviewed comics, novels, movies and music for a variety of platforms and is currently the Editor of the Saturday edition of the Daily Trust, one of the most influential newspapers in his country. You can follow him on Twitter: @KareemReal

What Bengal Wants: More Wolverine Covers & Work With Rick Remender

A Story That Keeps You Coming Back For More – We Stand On Guard So Far (#1-4)

By Chris Hayden

In his new series We Stand on Guard, writer Brian K. Vaughan, famous for his masterpiece Saga, continues to do what he does best: Construct memorable worlds and interesting characters in record time, sucking readers into some of the most original and thought provoking stories available at your local comic book store.

In the first four issues of the series, Vaughan and artist Steve Skroce create a bleak image of the future. After a drone attack strikes the White House in the year 2112, the United States retaliates by staging an invasion and occupation of Canada. During the initial bombardment, Amber, then a small child, witnesses the death of her father. Jumping forward to 2124, the story is told through the eyes of the now grown Amber, centering on the efforts of the “Two-Four”, a motley crew of Canadian resistance fighters who are opposing the American occupation of their homeland. It’s a fun premise that lends itself to both action and interesting character relationships while also being a more traditional comic book good vs. evil story, although sometimes it seems as though things may not be quite so black and white in this series.

We stand on guard image 1Much like Saga, the story of We Stand on Guard is unraveled slowly, with large chunks of the universe yet to be explored. As the arc progresses, we are introduced to heroes and villains alike. Allegiances aside, there is yet to be a genuinely uninteresting character in the series, as all of them have their own quirks and personalities that make them unique as individuals, rather than the standard caricatures you often find in these freedom fighter type stories. There’s no bumbling officer who thinks they should be in charge, no fearless leader with all the answers, and no cowardly soldier who is eventually redeemed. Vaughan isn’t simply checking boxes with characters traits, but rather crafting a genuinely diverse cast of characters who all feel like they could exist in the real world. While they don’t all dominate the story, with characters like the stoic Amber and the gruff and cool Dunn becoming the most memorable and prominent, they’re all interesting in their own way and we’re never bored learning more about them in each issue.

As important as the characters are, it’s the story that will keep you coming back for more. We follow as a near hopelessly outmanned and outgunned resistance attempts to fight off their technologically superior American oppressors by making the best of what they have. Throughout the arc, hints have been made that there is a dark secret behind the true origins of the American invasion, and Amber’s motivations for joining the resistance have yet to be fully examined. While both of these elements of mystery have been somewhat developed, Vaughan has done so in bite sized chunks, giving readers a compelling reason to pick up the next issue each month.

We stand on guard image 2The series strikes a balance between silence and action (and a little humor), taking on a Game of Thrones quality with how the issues unfold. They spend the majority of the time exploring characters and building relationships while also delving into their respective pasts and slowly establishing the history of the war. These moments, ranging from hopeful to poignant, are punctuated by moments of shocking violence that send a clear message as soon as the very first issue: no characters in this story are safe. It’s a revelation that leads to some enjoyably tense moments throughout these first few issues, as the characters jump from one harrowing situation to the next in a war that takes a visible toll on our heroes.

At its core, We Stand on Guard is nothing new in terms of premise, but it is what it does with this premise that makes it stand head and shoulders above the majority of series running today. While it certainly adds original elements to the standard freedom fighter formula, such as making the United States (ever the victim) the apparent villains of the story, it is the characters that elevate it from a Red Dawn knock-off to something in a league of its own. When a writer can have a reader seeing virtues in their villains and squirming at the actions of their heroes, you know you’re reading something special. It’s a series that isn’t afraid to portray war for the complicated thing that it is, and unflinchingly display the grey shades of morality. The well balanced mix between effective character development and thrilling action is something that’s sadly not as common as it could be in comics today, so it’s always a treat when it’s handled as well as it is in We Stand on Guard.

We stand on guard image 3Chris Hayden is a long time comic book geek and newly productive member of society from New Jersey. Reach out on twitter @Chayden2814

A Story That Keeps You Coming Back For More – We Stand On Guard So Far (#1-4)

‘Let’s Start A System Where The Creators Get Most Of The Money’ – David Lloyd Talks ACES Weekly

By Olly MacNamee

Best known as the co-creator of V for Vendetta, David Lloyd has just celebrated the third birthday of his digital-only ACES Weekly anthology title and I was able to catch up with Dave at the recent Leamington Comic Con where he was the star guest and ask him about digital distribution, anthologies on the web and his hopes for a brave new world for digital comics, better deals for creators and for readers too.

ACES CX COVEROlly MacNamee: We do very well with anthologies in the UK. Was this the reason for doing a weekly web anthology, Dave?

David Lloyd: Well, I think the anthology gives you a chance to widen the reader base as much as possible. So, publishing an anthology that has something for everyone is a good way of doing that. And, although there are really strong stories in there, it is family-friendly too. We aren’t using Garth Ennis level vocabulary. We are for everybody and that is part of the purpose of ACES Weekly. The other reason to do an anthology is that we are producing a weekly digital comic, so you really have to use the anthology format because you’ve got to have lots of different creators working at the same time. If you’re relying on one creative team and only one creative team every week, that would be tough. 21 pages every week? You couldn’t do that.

The anthology is good for production and for the readership. Hopefully people can embrace the digital distribution and think it’s great. We are trying to break down barriers because traditional comic fans are used to paper copies of their comics. With ACES, we hope that they can see it’s great. It can be read on their tablets, their desktops; you can even put it on your smart TV and make comics bigger. We’re still striving, successful to a degree, but we aren’t quite there yet because people are still resistant. I say, “Don’t resist.”

31COW INS_3OM: Your comics follow the ‘landscape’ model to tell their stories?

DL: Yes. The reason we used landscape is because the computer screen lends itself better to landscape better than the traditional portrait layout. We wanted a format that was common to all devices, whether that is laptop, smartphone or TV. I mean, look at the technology behind modern ‘ screens ‘. I mean, you can get a really sharper, illuminated reading experience through them.

OM: What other benefits are there for publishing and distributing digitally?

DL: We can offer a lot of extras in ACES Weekly. In print if you want to add another page, it’s going to cost you more money. Well, in digital you don’t have to worry about that at all. We can include a bumper collection of all sorts of stuff, like sketches, character designs and the like, for no extra cost. You can slot in work on the day we go live, another benefit of digital production. Printed comics may need a press deadline months ahead of sale date because they have to schedule the printing, ship it to distributors, all that stuff.

Aces_Series_ValleyOfShadows (1)OM: So what made you decide to go digital?

DL: What I always say when I travel around to conventions and promote ACES Weekly, is : it’s just great comic art on screen not on paper. That’s it. One of the reasons I was stimulated to do this was because I met Pepe Moreno in San Diego who’d had an experience where he’d done a book for a publisher on what is called a ‘back-end deal’ – where you get paid on what the sales are – and he went to the publisher of this particular book after a while and asked for his cut. The publisher said that there was no money left. He said, “What do you mean, there’s nothing left? I did this book!” The publisher, after factoring in printing costs, distribution costs, and the rest, said there was nothing left. That was crazy. He realized that he had to do it digitally so he set up his own website for it. So, when I heard this, I thought, “Okay, let’s do that, too.” So, I got a whole bunch of people together and that’s basically how it started.

We are an exclusively digital comic, but digital only relates to the delivery of the comic strips. When I started ACES Weekly people were asking me how IT had changed the art. It hasn’t. It’s only important in the delivery. We are just taking the comic art form off paper and putting it on the screen. That’s it. We don’t do motion comics by the way, we use the strength of traditional comics and put it on the screen where it looks even better. Nothing in print can compare with the luminescence of comics on screen.

MarcHempel_LoveBrothers_Aces-SizeOM: So, Dave, are still a pen and paper kinda guy?

DL: Yeah, although I would love to explore graphic tablets it’s a question of time for me these days. ACES Weekly is a 24/7 job and I’m glad to do it. The last thing I produced in art was a story for ACES Weekly Volume 1, a while back. I just wanted to contribute to it. I am very proud of running ACES Weekly and proud of everyone involved in it, and that is my focus and what I’m spending my time doing. And, there’s so many great people working with ACES Weekly, it’s an incredible mix. For £7 you can access some 200 pages of stories. You’ll be amazed by the quality and variety on there. We have up to 100 people working on this so far. And you don’t need digital art to produce a digital comic. It can always be scanned.

ACES Weekly is about changing the production and distribution methods to the benefit of the readers, who will get a cheaper product, and to the benefit of the creators, who will get a better deal. We need to establish a currency for onscreen comics. Because for too long now people have been used to getting internet comics for free – either through web comics that have been done for fun – or through backlog manga dumped on the net. Comics on the internet have been seen as having little inherent value as a result. Getting people to pay for them, even at a extremely reasonable price, is tough.

Traditionally, the creators haven’t made the money they should in most comics publishing. They never did. Let’s start giving the creators what they deserve. Let’s start a system where the creators get most of the money and not the printers, the distributors, and the publishers and all these other people who just make money from the creators efforts. They’re simply enablers for a system we don’t have to use any more when we have the almost direct-to-reader channel of cyberspace. There are only two important elements in comic storytelling – the creator and the reader. Everybody else is almost an irrelevance. ACES Weekly is just trying to offer that new method of entertaining readers with great comic art – because we can.

ACES Weekly can be found here.

PANZERTRIPODP05LANDSCAPEwebOlly MacNamee teaches English and Media, for his sins, in a school somewhere in Birmingham. Some days, even he doesn’t know where it is. Follow him on twitter @ollymacnamee or read about his exploits at olly.macnamee@blogspot.co.uk. Or don’t. You can also read his articles fairly frequently at www.bleedingcool.com too.

‘Let’s Start A System Where The Creators Get Most Of The Money’ – David Lloyd Talks ACES Weekly

The Super Awesome Comic Review Show – Star Wars Shattered Empire, Invincible Iron Man, Karnak, Tokyo Ghost & More!

The Super Awesome Comic Review Show returns to Bleeding Cool, recorded at the one and only Astro-Zombies Comic Shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

They say:

Foxi’s Top 5 single issues for the week of Wednesday October 21, 2015.

Books Featured:

Marvel Comics: Star Wars Shattered Empire #4

Marvel Comics: Karnak #1

Boom! Studios:  Cognetic #1

Marvel Comics: Invincible Iron Man #2

Image Comics: Tokyo Ghost #2

First Second Books: Human Body Theater

See you again next week!

Find us on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/SuperAwesomeComicShow

https://www.facebook.com/FoxiHasAPosse

 

The Super Awesome Comic Review Show – Star Wars Shattered Empire, Invincible Iron Man, Karnak, Tokyo Ghost & More!

‘A Century’s Worth Of Pent Up Rage’ – Preview OGN Shaman From Locust Moon Press

It’s the story of the “neverending battle between good and evil” only death is just a state of mind. It’s also the first full length graphic novel from Locust Moon Comics, the folks who brought us Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream (a multiple award winner at the Eisners and the Harveys). It’s also written by Ben Kahn with art by Bruno Hidalgo, with a cover by Farel Dalrymple (cover), and appearances by Jim Rugg, J.G. Jones, and more.

ShamanPreview_CoverThe 132 page graphic novel currently available from Locust Moon Press is described thus:

In the never-ending battle between good and evil, not even death is permanent. The Shaman, a mysterious mage with a trick forever up his sleeve and an uncanny ability to restore life, has tasked himself with raising those on both sides of the battle from the grave.

Working alongside a foul-mouthed teenage sorceress and a retired superhero who’s grown bored of the life in tights, the Shaman and his adoptive family fight monsters, demons, and even the odd astronaut or two if that’s what it takes to get the job done.

And here are some interior pages to give you a taste of what this mysterious mage gets up to in this OGN:

Shaman004_010 Shaman004_011 Shaman004_012 Shaman004_013

 

‘A Century’s Worth Of Pent Up Rage’ – Preview OGN Shaman From Locust Moon Press

Mac’s Books Reviewed – Hushers: A Very Victorian Apocalypse & The Mysterious Mustafa Khan No. 2

By Olly MacNamee

A monthly review spotlighting the best titles the industry has to offer. Well, has to offer me anyway. Other comic-book titles are available.

Hushers Digital.inddHushers: A Very Victorian Apocalypse (Markosia)

Writer: Andy Winter

Artist: Manuela Bassu Lebrino

This may well be a very Victorian apocalypse, as Earth is threatened by impending doom at the hands of a rogue comet, Asterea, but the overall plot lends from the more contemporary spy-thriller genre and to great success.

Hushers Digital.inddTransplanting the tropes of a good James Bond story onto early Victorian era England, what writer Andy Winters and artist Manuela Bassu Lebrino delivers is a fast-paced, action-packed thrill a minute as quaint, genteel Sarah Buckman, our hero, is caught up in a conspiracy not of her making, all the while growing and developing into a strong willed independent woman railing against the sexist standards of the Victorian norm. Women should be seen and not heard is not a philosophy Sarah has much truck with by the end of this graphic novel as she grows into herself. A forerunner of the Suffragettes before there was such a thing.

Hushers Digital.inddThere are the gadgets – or rather the utilization of Victorian technology – so, rather than an Aston Martin, the resistant forces led by the charismatic and charming Frenchman known merely as Jaques, have a hot air balloon, as the action escalates as Jaques and his band of anarchists, the Lambeth Rats, attempt to reveal the truth to an unsuspecting public. And, at a time when even our own governments seem to embody all that is bad about the megalomaniacs that make up Bond’s own rogues gallery, it is not too surprising to find that the big bad of Hushers is the elite, the powerful, the greedy who try to control the ideological discourse of the day, surprising the undeniable truth of an impending apocalypse as they prepare their own salvation and sod the rest of us. The ‘Bobbies’ of this England are genetically modified ‘Identicals’ that are obedient to Queen and Country too literally. Sound familiar of modern political machinations?

The artwork, all water painted over pencils by Lebrino, is delicate, defined and appropriate for a story of skullduggery and deception set in 1848 England. The attention to period detail, especially in the backgrounds, is stunning and helps to define a believable world of rural tranquility contrasting with the hustle and bustle of London’s busy streets.

James Bond, or should that be Jane Bond, meets The League of Extra-Ordinary Gentlemen wouldn’t be too far off the mark, and that’s a compliment. What Winters and Lebrino deliver is a period drama offering up a strong female lead fighting quite literally against a society that would rather she keep quiet and stay at home. Something she simply won’t accept.

Hushers Digital.inddAs a bonus at the end of the book, hidden behind the sketchbook and notes that reveal to readers the gestation and development of this graphic novel, is a little extra strip, The Comeback Kid, written by Winter and illustrated by Jim Lavery, which is a delight to read and a completely different kind of strip to the main feature. It imagines a world in which Dracula has been taken to the cleaners. He is down and out and looking for a big comeback gig, offering up such gems as “Vlad Men”, ‘about an advertising agency with a twist….’ to which an unimpressed agent knowingly adds, ‘Is the twist that they’re all vampires?’ A great extra treat to sink your teeth into. A humorous strip to round off a well-presented, satisfying package that is out now.

Available now directly from Markosia, or ask at your local comic book store. They can always order a copy in, I’m sure.

MMKhanpage1The Mysterious Mustafa Khan No. 2 (Crescent Comics)

Writer: Abdul Qadim Haqq, Abdul Rashid and Rick Wade

Artists: Leonardo Gondim and Abdul Qadim Haqq

After Bleeding Cool’s recent coverage of possibly the most racist comic available at the moment, Pig Man, it’s good to be able to readdress the balance and shine our spotlight onto a relatively new publisher coming out of Detroit, Michigan; Crescent Comics who offer a pantheon of superpower Islamic centric superheroes from the mind of Abdullah Qadim Haqq. His mission statement is simple: to offer comic book readers from all backgrounds a, ’positive counter narrative to the ever growing negative sentiment towards Muslims, particularly portrayed by the media and elsewhere from people who are driven in spreading Islamophobia.

‘We put our heads together and decided that something had to be done, realizing that it was our duty to try to inspire people to listen to an alternative narrative through our passion of art. It was out of this belief that Crescent Comics was born and our vision of introducing people to a new generation of Muslim superheroes that will inspire, entertain and bring enlightenment to those that choose to listen to a universal message of peace.’

MMKhanpage13The Mysterious Mustafa Kahn is one such character. A mystical sorcerer supreme of sorts, Khan has just survived an assassination attempt by an evil Djinn as issue 2 opens and looks quite calm about it, all things considered. I imagine this sort of thing happens to him a lot. Surrounded by his kick-ass harem of wives and assistants, including the powerhouse known as Jihad, the story unfolds in this issue to reveal that Khan may very well be older than his looks would suggest, he may well have been fighting the forces of darkness for some time. His wives are anything but quiet and are themselves a fighting force of female who share a mystical connection with their husband, Khan.

As implied, this is not too far removed from Dr Strange, but in mining the rich and varied tapestry of both Islamic literary heritage and beyond (before the Q’uran there were the 1,001 Nights) there are vast differences. After all, Dr Strange is just another archetype when boiled down. Khan is no different; he’s cut from the same cloth. And besides, if you are setting to establish a new superhero universe based on an exotic culture and history that does embrace the magical, the mystical and the Middle East then of course it’s going to reflect these elements. After all, Marvel’s captain Britain was at its best, I felt, when it embraced the Arthurian legends of Britain. Nothing wrong with a bit of cultural appropriation if done right and, The Mysterious Mustafa Khan does it well with the growing threat of a djinn army growing through the issue to be an all too real threat to our reality.

This is but one title offered by Crescent Comics, and I suggest you look on their website for further information about their growing stable of characters.

That’s my recommendations for this month.

Be seeing you.

Olly MacNamee teaches English and Media, for his sins, in a school somewhere in Birmingham. Some days, even he doesn’t know where it is. Follow him on twitter @ollymacnamee or read about his exploits at olly.macnamee@blogspot.co.uk. Or don’t. You can also read his articles fairly frequently at www.bleedingcool.com too.

Mac’s Books Reviewed – Hushers: A Very Victorian Apocalypse & The Mysterious Mustafa Khan No. 2

From Strip To Script – Legends Of The Dark Knight

By Josh Hechinger

Welcome to From Strip to Script, where I take a page of finished comic art and try to derive a script from it, to see what I can learn from the exercise.

I think I’ve mentioned before that James Robinson’s work on Starman for DC was the comic that made me aware that comics had, er, writers? Or rather, could be written by people with skin in the game beyond just generating and resolving conflicts for superheroes, that comics could be a place for creators to explore their interests while also doing fights and flights and all that good stuff. This was, obviously, a major revelation and hugely important to getting me to write comics, or even about them.

(I tend less towards exploring my interests in comics and more processing recent inspirations, and even then, “process” might be a little strong; “stir-fry” is the descriptor or analogy that feels it fits the best, if I’m being honest.)

Now, when you get into a series (and I got into Starman before I got into Robinson), if you’re like me, anyway, you dive into the series; binge-watching/reading/listening, I believe the kids are calling it these days. If you get into a creator, you do the same thing with their back catalog; so it was with myself and Robinson, once I ran out of Starman trades. Which lead me back to this three-parter from the Legends of the Dark Knight anthology series by Steve Oliff (colors), James Robinson (script), Tim Sale (art), and Willie Schubert (letters), the second issue of which we’re going to be looking at here.

BC_50

 

PAGE TWO (FOUR Panels)

P1. It’s dark. A gloved hand removes a string of pearls from an open safe.

CAPTION      Mercury watches over them…or so the Romans believed…

CAPTION      …watches over thieves.

TV (whisper)      So easy…

P2. A sleeping older couple, the owners of the safe, in their bed. The shadow of the THIEF draws away.

CAPTION      For he is their god, who protects…

CAPTION      …and bids them prosper.

TV (whisper)      …it’s criminal.

P3. The silhouette of the THIEF as he runs across the Gotham rooftops, his shadow catching on the brick wall of a skyscraper. It’s a full moon. Very dramatic.

P4. Small panel, a grim TV PRESENTER reading the news. The story icon is a Mystery Thief (a black silhouette with a question mark over it, holding a bag of loot…not a million miles away from the actual thief in P3.)

PRESENTER (electric)      Second week of daring jewel thefts. Gotham’s wealthy live in fear.

PRESENTER (electric)      Report at eleven.

So, What’d We Learn?

One of the reasons Robinson probably pinged my “oh, this is written” radar waybackwhen is the use of third person narration, which I feel isn’t used too widely anymore. First person, sure, but for whatever reason, it seems like few writers like to tell you a story while they’re telling you a story. A shame, really; it’s easy to abuse, and I suppose it’s not the best tool for narrative immediacy, but I’ve always been fond of it.

I dig that double-diegetic commentary on the action from the TV, too: first, the commercial wryly highlighting the criminal nature of thievery as it occurs, then the talking head panel (possibly a nod to Frank Miller’s work on the character; ’92 would have meant DKR and Year One were still relatively fresh) further introducing that this is part of a series of crimes (actually, maybe that second one isn’t diegetic if it’s just being presented as a moment in and of itself; one day I’ll know what the words I use mean, honest).

As comics-y as this page is, with the talking head, third person narration, even the special “this TV’s sound is on low” word balloon effect on the commercial, this is a very filmic story beat: it’s a cold open, sure, but it’s also setting up a crime and a mystery briefly and completely before we continue on with the main thrust of the story. The three issue Blades arc is about a “special guest star”, so to speak, showing up and disrupting the status quo (that of Batman being the hero of Gotham). That the mystery ties back to the guest star is very…’70s TV crime drama, Rockfordian if I’m being cute/punchable, in a way that’s worth noting insofar as those shows are usually contained and well-run plot machines, which is worth studying if you’re trying to pick up storytelling tricks, especially for something like a superhero comic.

Philly-based comic writer Josh Hechinger [joshhechinger.tumblr.com] is a Cancer, and his blood type is A+. You can find him being a loquacious dope on Twitter, and read his comic collaborations on Comixology.

From Strip To Script – Legends Of The Dark Knight

Folklore Is ‘Older And Stranger’ In Cry Havoc – Si Spurrier In The Bleeding Cool Interview

Cry Havoc, the new Image series from Simon “Si”  Spurrier and Ryan Kelly was announced this week to much fanfare, including the endorsement of Alan Moore, from whom Spurrier continued the series Crossed +100. One of the series log lines, according to its newly launched Tumblr, is “Fear + Folklore + Firepower”.

Having spoken with Spurrier at length about this new series at New York Comic Con, I am particularly impressed by the accuracy and nuance behind that description. This is a series that digs deep into the public subconscious, delving far into the past and confronting the past with the present. As is suggested the solicit info and covers, this is a comic series which will feature a central character who appears to be some form of werewolf, and she, along with others who may be “afflicted” in a similar folkloric way, are going to find themselves facing a war zone in Afghanistan.

tumblr_nw9g3pAni51s2a55yo1_1280In the hands of a less seasoned creative team, the concept would be interesting simply based on those outlines, and it would possibly a series that would turn heads and generate buzz when it releases in January. In the hands of Si Spurrier (Six Gun Gorilla, Numbercruncher, The Spire) and Ryan Kelly (Lucifer, Northlanders, DMZ ), however, we also have the potential for a very smart and emotionally meaningful comic set to tell us something about ourselves and why we fear what we fear in life.

Talking to Spurrier about Cry Havoc (a title taken from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: ‘Cry ‘Havoc’ and let slip the dogs of war!’) has only infected me further with the suspicion that this might be one of the most poignantly punchy and significant books of 2016. This is the first book to make me feel like 2016 is going to be a strong year for comics.

Now, Spurrier and I are incapable of staying totally on topic, so come along and follow our discussion of social media, editing, indie comics, working on creative teams, and the deep, dark significance of the vestigial remains of folklore in our modern lives.

When I described Cry Havoc as a “weird horror book”, Spurrier said:

tumblr_nqvl4hwmzc1urq2v5o1_1280Simon Spurrier: It’s a “weird book” and probably is, as you say, a “horror book”. I don’t seem capable of writing a book where I can with certainty define what it’s about. Somebody said to me, “Well, it’s about a Lesbian werewolf who goes to war”. And I said, “Ok, let’s go with that”.

HMS: [Laughs] It is typical of you, because even when writing Crossed, it was always about something else, and there was so much going on in that comic. But that’s not a bad thing at all.

SS: It’s fine. I just wait for somebody else to tell me what it is about. Regarding The Spire, somebody said, “Oh, it’s Dark Crystal meets Bladerunner”. Yes. Cool. That’s what that book is.

HMS: The Spire is a beautiful book.

SS: Jeff [Stokely] is amazing. I’ve worked with many close friends, but not with the degree of closeness that I have with Jeff. To the extent that I, despite being a hideous control freak, have started leaving stuff out of my scripts, since I know that Jeff will make things up and it will be great, and I can write around it. That’s what comics are about. I have this chat with Kieron [Gillen] often, since I am often jealous of his relationship with Jamie [McKelvie]. If they hadn’t found each other, their careers would have gone in different directions.

Spire-2-StokelyHMS: There are all kinds of bizarre gravitational forces in comics, and everything is constantly changing to the point that it’s amazing to me that any creative team on a creator-owned project, particularly, manages to stay together until the fruition on these projects.

SS: Yes. It’s an exercise in human dynamics, human engineering. That’s something I didn’t expect working on this Image book, was the degree to which I became project manager.

HMS: Oh, you just touched on a big discussion that’s been going on lately! You answered my question.

SS: Which is what?

HMS: Which is: are we in an Image world now where editors are no longer necessary? The conclusion I reached was that there still has to be someone who is the project manager on a creator-owned project.

SS: I think having a manager is something that happens, whether intentionally or not, organically. Whether that’s the same thing as having an editor in the editing sense, I don’t know.

HMS: Someone has to be on the production schedule, and on deadlines.

SS: Yes, keeping everything on time. We’ve made this rod for our own backs on Cry Havoc in having three colorists, so three times as many e-mails.

tumblr_nqvl4hwmzc1urq2v5o2_1280

HMS: Yes! The cover has so many credits, and I recognized at least two as being colorists right away.

SS: The way the story is told, there are different time periods, but being featured in parallel, and each has a different colorist. The idea being that colorists don’t really get much of the glory in comics, short shrift. We thought it would be a nice way of differentiating between these threads, keeping the story instinctively understandable, and also showing how much of a difference a colorist can make. One artist, three colorists, and they look like three differently drawn pieces.

HMS: You may be the first people who have intentionally done that on a project.

SS: I think we are.

HMS: There have been a couple of books in the past few years who used different color schemes for different time periods or settings, like E8ht by Rafael Albuquerque, but I haven’t heard of having different colorists doing those segments. That’s new.

SS: As far as I know, we’re the first to do it. It felt like the right time to do it. This emerged out of a lot of conversations about colorists getting the credits they deserve. We thought, well our book has three threads , wouldn’t this work there? Also, in the most crass way possible, we have three more names that people might recognize, and three more people on Twitter sharing the work. You can’t overestimate the importance of that these days with Image books, to have partisan creators saying nice things about the work.

HMS: I was having this discussion recently, about how important it is to have every member of the team on just about any book, reaching out through their social networks to promote. Even if you’re saying “Sorry for sharing this link yet again”, just do it anyway. Because that’s how a book survives and that how you keep it going. The bigger the team, the more reach you may have.

SS: I am forever feeling guilty when tweeting about my own work. It makes me feel like I’m being really uncool.

But I was talking with Leigh Alexander recently, she’s a games journalist and intersectional feminist and all-round great person, and I mentioned this stuff to her. And she said, ‘That’s ridiculous. Those people choose to follow you because they like your work. The least they can do is pay attention when you tell them something new is available. If people get fed up with it, they weren’t going to support your brand anyway’.

HMS: Or they won’t follow you anymore, or whatever. Same difference. I think that we often don’t even know what a fine margin there is on a book surviving. I think that if one annoying Tweet a day makes sure that your project follows through and you don’t live with regret about leaving something unfinished, isn’t that worth it?

SS: I think it is. I haven’t yet determined how influential Twitter is in practical terms. But then, I saw some numbers once that said, 20% of people online have a Twitter account, and that seems amazing, and then you realize, 80% don’t. My law that I keep harping on about is, ‘Factions speak louder than herds’. If someone is in a small group, they will shout louder than big groups. This is true of every single aspect of online interaction.

If someone speaks up and says, ‘Hey, this book’s amazing’. Can you trust that it’s representative?

If someone says they are offended by a book, can you be sure they’re anything more than an outlier? It’s really hard to treat Twitter as anything more than interesting, rather than basing your decisions around perceived reactions, movements, or trends on social media.

unnamed-121HMS: Oh, well— this comes back to the quote that you have at the beginning of the first issue of Cry Havoc, actually. Joseph Konrad speaks about the notion of straightforward facts, about what’s a fact and what’s not. To me, Twitter is totally this quote. It’s always shifting out of my grasp in terms of deciding how seriously to take what I just saw happening. And trying to predict where something is about it go from that point. We all know it could go horribly from there, or become something wonderful, in terms of a heated discussion or conflict going on between people or groups of people.

SS: I think what it comes down to is the question: to what extent do facts matter? This will sound very wanky, but as a story creator, something means more to me if it’s satisfying than if it’s true. People say Wikipedia is rubbish because you can change the information, there’s no authority, but inasmuch as I’m using it to gain information for stories and essentially talking to people, it doesn’t matter if it’s entirely accurate or not. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do. I know that’s the thin end of a very stupid wedge, and if you go too far down that path facts don’t matter.

But… y’know… maybe they don’t.

HMS: Well, there’s something to be said for judging a thing by its own qualities. As long as you know what it is that you’re looking at, possibly everything is useful, if you just know that usefulness is.

SS: Yes. Especially in the context of stories, something is at its most efficient if it’s being responded to. Not when it’s being “true”.I have these brilliant discussions with my wife, because if I’m telling a story to a group of friends I will inevitably exaggerate. And she hates that , saying, “That’s not exactly what happened. It wasn’t five frogs, it was only three frogs”. But I’m thinking, “But it makes it a better story”. And it’s true enough. It’s a more enjoyable story as a result.

Stories is what Six-Gun Gorilla was about. Stories is what X-Men: Legacy was about. Stories is very much what Cry Havoc is about. It’s about living stories. That’s what folklore is, ultimately: stories that got big enough that people started to treat them as if they were real.

HMS: Folklore is living story in the sense that it can keep changing as well, and hasn’t ossified into just one possible version, too, right?

SS: That’s one of the themes of the story, Cry Havoc. It’s the reemergence of things that are no longer relevant, but are still wonderful and beautiful. We tend to sneer at old explanations for, say, why your hair gets tangled at night, like there’s a goblin running around tying knots in your hair. Of course there’s not, but that’s a better explanation than the real one, and that’s true of all these folkloric things. One of the questions at the heart of Cry Havoc is: What happens when you are the story? When you are something that is possibly no longer relevant, can you make yourself relevant?

Which is why this poor girl, whose life is chaotic…

HMS: This is Louise?

SS: Yes…gets turned around by this strange occultish attack, and ends up going to Afghanistan. In a thematic sense it’s a way of plugging in something that’s totally not modern with something that is bleedingly relevant today.

tumblr_nsckcnxmYn1s2a55yo1_1280HMS: This is a weird comparison to make, but it’s kind of like when all of your interface technology is obsolete, but you still want to use the objects. You can’t get the charger for the phone or iPad you love anymore, so what happens to those things? I get the sense even in the first issue of this comic that human beings carry around all this vestigial stuff. That we can’t access, and aren’t aware of, whether it’s operating or not. We’re not watching it operate or keeping an eye on it anymore. Is that a kind of haunted thing to realize? That there’s so much weird shit we carry around biologically, psychologically, in the 21st century?

SS: Well… look, I’m not in any way religious, in fact almost the opposite, but to risk descending into slightly pretentious storytelling territory again, we are unique creatures who have the ability to make stuff up and respond to it as if it’s real. That’s extraordinary. We are peddlers of lies. And people know that they are lies, but they respond to it as if it’s real.

HMS: And that seems to go pretty far back in our evolution, too.

SS: It’s clearly the root of all spirituality, the root of all religions. To me, the religions are wrong, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t causing people to respond emotionally to things. That’s what’s really interesting, is how people respond.

HMS: I saw an article online talking about how the chemical reaction of fear is measurably the same for a real experience as to encountering a horror film or story.

SS: Yes. You watch a soppy movie and it makes you cry. It makes no sense, but you do. You watch a horror film and jump out of your seat. You’re in no danger, but you feel as if you are.

HMS: The brain records it in the same way, as the same level of experience, chemically.

SS: That’s beautiful. It goes back to what we were saying before. Does truth really matter? Evidently not. The truth is what we make of it. And two people can experience the same truth in two completely different ways anyway, so why shouldn’t we massage the truth and decide what we want it to be, rather than letting our brains decide for us?

HMS: Well, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are being influenced in that way too. All those things that have fed into our intellect over time are being interpreted by our brains in different ways.

main-qimg-cca5435b779c8424e5bccf1acc8cb5dbSS: There’s a lot of that in Cry Havoc, a lot of skeumorphism. The best example of skeumorphism is the symbol of a floppy disk on your computer as an icon to save your file. We haven’t had floppy disks in years, yet these are our symbols even though they are obsolete. That’s what’s going on with these monsters in Cry Havoc. They are remnants of something that was once relevant. In their case, something vivid and vivacious, frightening and meaningful… which are now forgotten. Or no longer important. So what happens when they decide they want to go back to being important again? That’s kind of at the heart of the whole thing.

HMS: The direction you all have chosen to take on this story is interesting to me, since you could take these same elements and turn this into a science fiction story, but instead you’re looking backward to the past, back to the cave paintings instead. To reevaluate the past or contrast it with the present.

SS: I think it makes more sense to do that simply because if it were something more futuristic, it would be about creating new mythologies. Whereas I’m saying, “We’ve got all these wonderful old myths which are obsolete. What happens when they want to be relevant again?” New mythologies arise as a result. In fact, there’s a whole plot point which revolves around the “one true myth”, the “zeitgeist”, the “time-ghost”. It becomes the lynchpin of these three stories.

It’s really, really fiddly telling three stories alongside each other so that they complement each other, so that the surprises in the first thread are delivered in such a way so that they don’t seem disingenuous in comparison to the things that have happened in the second or third thread.

HMS: Is there any particular reason you chose the three story structure?

SS: For that very reason. Because it means that you can deliver information in fascinating way. For me, comics is pacing. My job, as a writer of comics, is to have the skill to disseminate information in a rhythmic way. That’s what writing comics is. So, it felt fun to be able to tell three portions of the same character’s story in parallel, so beats end up having unexpected relationships with each other. Now, if you’re reading the middle section, your protagonist already knows what has happened in the first section, so you have to be careful not to alienate the readers from her. Because they could argue that she’s not giving them all the information that she has at her disposal. It has to be sympathetically done. You have to find ways to deliver the peaks and the troughs in all three threads in a way that they complement each other.

I think it’s working. We underestimate the sophistication of the reader’s brain, I think. Readers are very good at just going, “Well, this is challenging. it’s not a simple, linear story, but it works”.

ch13HMS: Something that stood out to me on an emotional level upon looking at the first issue of this book was the image of Louise in the moments before her life changes, playing the violin, busking, and the artist has created an iconic angle. You see her blue hair backlit, I think, and it’s a very passionate moment, where she seems to resemble a Mozart or Bach kind of figure. It doesn’t surprise me that you’re talking about rhythms and structures, because you’ve introduced music as an overt theme, too, in the comic.

So, why the music, though? And why this image? It seems very important.

SS: It’s funny, one of the log lines we were originally going to use was going to read, ‘Music, Myth, Monsters’. But actually the book isn’t really about music in the way that a comic like Phonogram is about music. I suppose, for me, Lou’s talent is a shorthand for demonstrating she’s a woman who possesses creativity. She’s not necessarily defined by logic, but by passion, excitement, and all the rest of it.

HMS: She already knows that she moves in a world she does not fully understand.

SS: I’m a big believer in the controlling idea when you write a comic. Especially when you write something as fiddly as Cry Havoc.

HMS: You need that strong central image.

SS: And I can’t tell you what the controlling idea is, since it’ll give everything away, but it’s at the core of this whole thing. This tension between control and chaos, basically. That’s what it comes down to. And Lou, as a character, has been conditioned to believe you should be in control, but is almost continually guided by chaos. So the nature of the story is whether she overcomes the chaos or discovers that maybe control isn’t so great, either. I’m coming very close to giving away too much!

unnamed-112HMS: You’re giving me a psychological pattern for the character, which I always want in a comic. If it has that, I’ll follow a comic right through.

Now, this first issue has an essay in the back written by you that gives a little insight into this book as well. It made me feel like this is your book about Monsters, with a capital “M”. You do tend to do “studies” of certain ideas in your comics, like Numbercruncher was a study in metaphysics and math.

SS: Yes, they do tend to be explorations of particular things. That’s a fair thing to say. It’s probably true of everything I’ve written, but less for some than others. This one, yes. It was Fiona Staples who said something really nice. She’s doing a second issue variant cover. Cameron Stewart did one for the first issue. The reason I mention her is because when I sent her the first episode, she said it made her think of the old 1990’s Marvel and DC “monsters going to war” books like Howling Commandos. But a very “Image” take on that idea. And that’s exactly what I’ve found myself doing. Monsters going to war.

HMS: That immediately reminds me of old mythology like Ragnarok, too. Very ancient ideas about monsters fighting each other and destroying the world.

SS: Yes. The idea is that there’s this special team going out to Afghanistan, each of whom is monstrous in some way, and each episode focuses more on one of them than the others. Hence each of the main covers is going to showcase another of the different creatures. It’s funny you mention Ragnarok, because the creature put into the spotlight for issue two is tied into Norse mythology.

HMS: Can you tell us more about the art on the book?

SS: Ryan Kelly is amazing. I thought he’d be too busy to say yes, frankly. He had just come off Three with Kieron Gillen, and Kieron put us in touch. His Northlanders run is one of the highlights of that series and his career. He’s just very, very good at telling stories. He’s not a guy who’s more interested in style than in story. He just depicts it in the most clear and wonderfully composed way possible. He’s also really, really good at designing monsters.

HMS: There seems to be a copacetic thread between his past projects and this one. Is it by association or by his inclination?

SS: You’d have to ask him! I didn’t consciously pick him because he’s a monster guy or a military or whatever. I just really liked his work. But he also does understatement really well. What I was saying before about ‘Lesbian werewolf who goes to war’? We’ve leaned into that little motto because it’s true-ish and it’s punchy as hell, but, hopefully in the same way that people realized there was more going on than you’d think at first appearances in Six-Gun Gorilla, so Cry Havoc isn’t really about that at all. To help us out, we didn’t want it to be a werewolf running around looking like every other werewolf in stories. Because it’s not: it’s a Shuck or a Barguest… something far older and stranger.

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HMS: It’s going to take you back further than typical modern Western assumptions about werewolves.

SS: Yep. So, Kelly has created this thing. We don’t see it much in the first episode, but it’s this rangy, lank, graceful dog-thing. And it occurred to me that the biggest thing he’d done, that seemed so minor but works so perfectly, was to give it dangling ears rather than sticking up ears. It made it unlike any other werewolf people had seen.

HMS: That suggests other cultural context, too.

SS: The second issue touches on this a lot, but I was already really interested in the Black Dog myths we have in Britain. We in the UK tend to depict Black Dog myths as Dobermans, or Mastiffs, or Hounds but the same sorts of myths in mainland Europe tend to be depicted as a Poodle. A giant black Poodle. Whereas we think of Poodles as silly toy dogs. Shaggy dog stories, literally.

HMS: There are so many associations between black dogs and the gateway to the Underworld.

SS: And also with depression. Because the euphemism du jour for being depressed is saying you’re ‘having a black dog day’. As with X-Men Legacy, there’s a lot of allegory in Cry Havoc about inner demons, mental health, emotional well-being. Lou even makes a grim joke about it, at one point, because she’s struggling with what’s happened to her, and she calls a Samaritans-type helpline. And they ask her if she’s having a ‘black dog day’, while she’s sitting there, covered in fur and blood.

tumblr_nsk0wtKCOC1s2a55yo1_400HMS: That’s great. It’s like an accretion. It can draw in so many resonances from many types of stories.

SS: Stories about stories. There are no limits to these. Folklore being what it is, each country has its own continuum. I hate this idea of canon, which fixes the idea of a god being a god or a spirit being a spirit, whereas in fact they are syncretized with each other, and blurred over time.

HMS: It’s amazing how much difference the language makes, too, in the interpretation of different words. We argue so much for similarities when we compare folktales, but we need to allow for the differences too, that are fascinating.

SS: I think it’s a mistake to taxonomize. It’s more delightful to me to think of some kind of proto-dog idea. We’re sitting at the campfire. What do we imagine outside the light? Something big and black and shaggy. It’s written into our cultural DNA in Europe, and I imagine it’s written elsewhere in the world, too. That’s the cool thing about having an international team in this book, going to Afghanistan, is you get to explore folklore from all over the world.

CRY HAVOC #1 Cover A by Ryan Kelly and Emma Price (Diamond Code NOV150482) will hit comic book stores on Wednesday, January 27th. Cover B by Eisner Award-winning artist Cameron Stewart will be available with Diamond Code NOV150483. The final order cutoff deadline for comic book retailers is Monday, January 4th. 

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