Monday, June 8, 2009

Lost FYC: Negative Burn

When FYC was put on hiatus, I was in the middle of a series on independent anthologies. This was part 5 - the fourth anthology to be spotlighted after an introductory piece. I will publish those other ones in the coming week to give this and the following two pieces more context. Also of note, Negative Burn ceased monthly publication in the middle of 2008, but Joe Pruett is currently putting together a large "annual" book, and, if I understand correctly, plans on going forward with this annual iteration of the book, similar to what Fantagraphics has done with Los Bros Hernandez's Love & Rockets. And again, some of the information in the interview may be a bit outdated, but enjoy it for what it is and if you want to check out Negative Burn, just head on over to the Desperado site where they offer back issues of the most recent series as well as many, if not all, of the original 50 issues.

For Your Consideration: Negative Burn from Desperado Publishing
By Chris Beckett

FRONT PAGE: The book that gave superstar creators John Cassaday, Paul Pope, Scott Morse, Brian Michael Bendis, Ande Parks, and Phil Hester some of their earliest exposure within the comics medium, Negative Burn has been a premiere black and white anthology since its inception. Originally running 50 issues from 1993 to 1998, Joe Pruett – editor and creator – took some years off from comic publishing before returning with the Negative Burn Winter Special in 2005. Since then, through his Desperado Publishing imprint, Pruett has released a Summer Special and 18 subsequent issues. If you’re looking for the next comics superstars, there’s a good bet you’ll find them within the pages of Negative Burn. Click inside and discover where this new vanguard of writers and artists can be found.

The 411:
Negative Burn
Edited by Joe Pruett
64pp. b/w
Desperado Publishing

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

Since it began its original run in the summer of 1993, Joe Pruett’s black and white comics anthology, Negative Burn, has included work from many of the bigger names in the comics community while also providing opportunities for aspiring creators. Some noteworthy artists whose earliest creations can be found within this anthology include John Cassaday, Phil Hester, Scott Morse, Terry Moore, David Mack, Brian Michael Bendis, and Paul Pope – whose stories in Negative Burn were the first ones to be published outside of his own Horse Press imprint. These new artists often found their names alongside the likes of Warren Ellis, Dave Gibbons, Paul Jenkins, Guy Davis, Jeff Smith, Neil Gaiman, Brian Bolland, and Alan Moore. Pruett has always had an eye for talent, a fact on evidence in any issue of Negative Burn.

Less inclined toward experimentation than Fantagraphics’ MOME, Negative Burn has carved out its own little niche, and with its return in 2005 through Pruett’s new publishing venture, Desperado, the black and white anthology picked up right where it had left off seven years prior. Showcasing the diversity of story and style possible within the medium, Pruett includes a broad variety of stories in each issue – from horror to contemporary fiction, superheroes to a WWII-era flying ace mystery – nothing is off-limits within the pages of Negative Burn.

With this latest iteration of Negative Burn, there have been a number of memorable stories, ones worth reading again and again. Bur for me, the one that has stood out is the final story of issue #9. Written by Jody LeHeup with art from Pablo Peppino, “Hard Road” relates the tale of two contemporary gangsters enlisted to remove a leak within the organization. Driving out of town, the two discuss relationships and how difficult they can be for men in their line of work. This leads to Mikey, the younger one, offering this difficulty as a theory for why Sal, his mentor in the organization, has a cat instead of a girlfriend, to which Sal replies, “at least he doesn’t care that I’m a bastard.”

As they pass the town line, Mikey hears a scratching noise in the trunk, and the reality of the situation is made evident to the younger man when Sal tells him, “It’s Gino. He’s in the trunk. You gotta take care of him.” Arriving at a secluded area in the forest outside town, the two get out. Sal has already done the prep work – digging the grave – and tells Mikey to get the camera from the trunk because the boss wants to see, but he warns, “Careful. He might try to run.” With events quickly converging, the conversation becomes more somber as the audience’s expectations take a drastic left turn. Understanding comes as readers see that the leak is not hidden in the trunk, but is in fact Sal. The killing is quick and clean, one shot, and when Mikey returns the spade to the trunk, Gino is revealed to be Sal’s cat, the pet he wanted Mike to take care of now that he’s gone. “Hard Road” is an excellent example of the first-rate storytelling one can find within Negative Burn, whether veteran artists or lesser-knowns such as LeHeup and Peppino.

Being on a budget, the number of monthly comics I purchase is slim indeed. One of the few that has remained on my must-buy list is Negative Burn. When the book returned in 2005 with its winter and summer specials, Joe Pruett wisely anchored the anthology’s revival with some well-known creators. Including stories from noteworthy contributors like James A. Owen, comedian Patton Oswalt, the Luna Brothers, Kurt Busiek, Steve Lieber, and Danijel Zezelj, the bar was once again set high. Subsequent issues have not disappointed, and the exciting aspect of that is the fact that, for the most part, those now contributing regularly to Negative Burn are relative unknowns – the vanguard of the next generation of cartoonists. The likes of R.G. Taylor, Michel Fiffe, Sami Makkonen, G.B. Tran, Dalabor Talajic, Noel Tuazon, Elizabeth Genco, and Elton Pruitt are lighting the way for what should hopefully be a long and healthy run for this essential and engrossing comic anthology.

An Interview with writer Elton Pruitt:

Chris Beckett: Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

Pruitt: I've loved comics from the time I was a wee sprout. I spent many a summer's day in my grandfather's barber shop, reading everything from the Fantastic Four annual where Reed and Sue got married, to the comic adaptation of the original Dark Shadows TV show.

As a “grown-up,” I went through the “I’m too grown-up for comics” phase for a long while. But when I learned in late 2004 that I was going to be a Dad, the strangest thing happened. I became interested in comics again and went on something of a “comics of my childhood” rampage, spending ridiculous amounts of money on eBay to amass Kirby's complete run on Kamandi – which was a comic I always wanted to read as a child, but never actually got to.

From there, it was a short step to deciding I wanted to write comics myself. The idea that I could write something and see it brought to visual life, and that people might actually read it and be in some way moved by it – that was just the coolest thing I could imagine, and seemed somehow like a natural extension of my imminent new identity as a Dad.

Beckett: You mentioned in an email that you hired Kristen Simon of Image’s Shadowline studio to edit a couple of the stories that eventually saw print in Negative Burn. I wonder if you’d be able to recount a specific instance where her editorial guidance helped improve a story.

Pruitt: Oh, yeah! The first time I worked with her, I was trying to get a story accepted in 803 Studios' Sequential Suicide anthology. I'd written one script already – which was the first actual comic book script of my life – but I wasn't sure how I felt about it. So then I got this harebrained notion to write a story inspired by Raymond Carver's “What's In Alaska?” which hinges on a scene in which these two couples are getting high together.

So, I wrote this story about a soldier home on leave from Iraq, who gets high with his girlfriend and while they're both high, learns of her infidelity. Which actually sounds like it might be a good story. But it wasn't – not even close.

When I sent it to Kris to edit, I mentioned that I'd written another story first but then decided to go with this new one. When she emailed me back, she spent a paragraph pointing out probably a half-dozen critical problems with the story I'd sent. And then she closed with, “maybe you should send me the other story!”

And the other one, with her help, became the story that was my first-ever published work, “Fall of the Triumvirate.”

The second story she edited for me, “This Is Where I Am,” had a two-page dream sequence that I was just in love with in an early draft. At her urging, I cut it entirely, and that freed me up to make other changes that ultimately resulted in a much better story.

Beckett: In a more general sense, what lessons did you take away from the experience of working with Ms. Simon?

Pruitt: When you're just starting out, the best possible thing you can do to learn and grow as a writer is to find an editor who'll tell you God's honest truth about your writing. Because friends and family want to be supportive and encouraging, which is great and all, but that's not what you really need. What you need is constructive criticism, and that's what working with Kris provided me.

Beckett:For readers that may be unfamiliar with Negative Burn, why did you submit these short stories to the book, and what does it mean for you to have your work published within this anthology?

Pruitt: At the start of 2007, my goal for the year was to get my first comic book story published. So to get published in three different anthologies last year, and to end the year with stories in three consecutive issues of Negative Burn – that's really more than I could've hoped for.

Why Negative Burn? Simple – it's the premiere anthology in comics. If you check out the Desperado Publishing site and look through the list of creators published in Negative Burn, it's like a who's who of comics: Brian Bolland, Alan Moore, Paul Pope, Kurt Busiek, Dave Gibbons, and a ton of others.

Last summer at the San Diego Comic-Con, my friend and fellow writer Caleb Monroe introduced me to a lot of people he knows in the industry. And having “Elton's got a couple of stories coming out in Negative Burn this fall” as part of that introduction did wonders for my credibility. Because everybody knows Negative Burn, and its reputation is stellar.

Beckett: What is the best piece of advice you can give to other aspiring creators who wish to get their comics published?

Pruitt: First of all, realize you're probably not Jason Aaron. It's more likely that you'll accidentally invent time travel than that you'll land a series at Vertigo right out of the gate. So, set some realistic goals for yourself.

I think you learn and grow a lot more as a writer by actually creating comics and getting them out there for people to read, than by confining yourself to 5-page submissions that never see the light of day. So, the approach I'd recommend is the one I've followed in the last year: write short stories, get great artists to illustrate them, and send them out to Negative Burn and other anthologies.

Lastly, find an editor who'll work with you on a freelance basis – Kris Simon is obviously highly recommended – and listen to what they tell you, and learn from their experience.

Beckett: What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell readers about?

Pruitt: I've got two more short stories in artists' hands right now, so hopefully those will be appearing in Negative Burn in the not-distant future. “By The Southern Grace of God” is a story about an apocryphal Lynyrd Skynyrd song and a young woman's search for the father she never knew. “Frog-Boy” is a weird and touching tale about, well, Frog-Boy!

Later this year, if all goes according to plan, I'll have a story in Postcards II: California Dreaming, the follow-up to last year's Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened, in which all the stories are inspired by actual mailed postcards. And come the Christmas season, I'll have a story (illustrated by the brilliant Marvin Mann) appearing in a collection of true Christmas disasters James W. Powell is putting together.

In the meantime, Elizabeth Genco and I are cooking up a little creator-owned something that's probably the last thing you'd expect to see from either one of us. So, that'll be fun and different and hopefully landing on some fine publisher's doorstep later this year.

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