Tuesday, August 31, 2010

W27: more preview art

Here's another preview image, newly colored for the upcoming collection of Warrior27, from the story "Come Hell"
Words by Dan Fleming, line art by Dan Lauer.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Elephant Words week #10

More flash fiction from the Elephant Words site, based on the image below. Created within a day or so of the image going up, it could certainly use some fleshing out, but here it is, warts and all.

Maybe someday I'll get back to it, but right now I'm expanding on this one (I've added a couple thousand words of backstory to the initial 850 words and am excited about where I plan to go with it)


Mars Explorer

By Chris Beckett

A ruddy cloud blew across Jimmy’s vision. Raising his hand instinctively, he took a deep breath, air hissing in his ears as it carried through his spacesuit. Dropping his gloved hand Jimmy turned slowly, absorbing the barren expanse of the Martian landscape. It was just as he’d always imagined.

He took one hesitant step, unsure of the relative gravity, afraid of flying off awkwardly. With the slightest push, he managed to float quite a few feet away from the ship. It was exhilarating. Jimmy pushed off harder, his stomach tingling as he jumped toward the horizon.

“Hey! Where you goin’?” Janey’s signal came over the wireless in the helmet. Jimmy turned to see her standing in the hatchway of the Double-X Rocket ™. Even in the bulky pressure suit, he thought she was beautiful.

Jimmy waved his hand buoyantly, his excitement threatening to overwhelm him. He gave no reply, but knew Janey could see his smile. Turning, he made for a large outcropping about a mile east of the landing.

“Be careful.” Jimmy nodded slightly as he raised his hand in acknowledgement.

Bounding across the flat expanse, Jimmy felt like he was back home in the neighbor’s pool, moving lazily through the soft pull of the water. Looking up, the rough pile of stones barely appeared any closer. He stopped for a quick rest; the exertion coupled with his excitement threatening hyperventilation.

Looking back, Jimmy saw Janey now following him. He could see her head turning left and right as if she were out for an afternoon walk, working to take everything in.

“What are you up to?” he called through the headset.

“Just checkin’ things out. You?”

“Taking a breather on my way to those boulders. Wonder what’s on the other side.”

“More rocks. Haha.”

“Comedian,” came Jimmy’s droll reply.

He got up and moved toward the eastern horizon once more. Before him, the huge stones bounced in his vision, growing slowly bigger with every up/down, up/down. Jimmy worked to keep his mind from racing again, replaying Janey’s remark, more rocks, over and over. So many others had come here looking for that Rosetta stone to explain the mysteries of the universe and only returned with handfuls of dust. He couldn’t let himself get too excited.

A few minutes and Jimmy reached the base of the outcrop. It rose fifty feet into the air, multiple handholds and ledges crossing its jagged face. Janey had picked up her pace and, looking back, he could see she was almost on top of him. He awaited her before beginning his ascent.

“Sucker!” Janey didn’t slow down, taking the first fifteen feet in one leap. It was a second before Jimmy recovered. He pushed off hard, clearing a wide ledge above his head quite easily. Without taking time to firmly plant, he shoved off once more and passed Janey who had reverted to a traditional climbing technique past that initial jump.

Floating through the air, Jimmy watched as Janey panicked and steadied for her own giant leap. He smiled and turned his gaze toward his next foothold.

Landing hard, he pushed off, and the rocks gave way. His face fell toward one large boulder as his arms hit heavily, legs flying out into nothing. The impact shuddered his suit, rippled across his body. Gravity snagged him; he began sliding down the steep face, feet flailing, searching for anything to break his fall.

As he settled into a tiny crevice, Janey passed him, eyeing the summit as she ignored him.

“Hey, a little help,” he called into the speaker.

“Uhn-uh. Not falling for that one,” came her titter.

Jimmy pushed up and bounded after her. Thirty feet from the top he watched her go over. He stopped to gain his bearings a bit.

“AAAAAHHHHH!!” Janey’s screech numbed him. With a single leap, Jimmy was over the summit.

Before Janey was a huge beast, white and hairy, almost four meters high, Jimmy immediately thought - Abominable from Rudolph. Keying his glove console, Jimmy felt his palm warm up as the battery charged, readying the laser housed in the arm of his suit.


He looked up to see the beast upon him, Janey small in the background lying on her side. His eyes widened as the albino monster raised its arms. Jimmy did the same, but too late. It smashed into the side of his helmet. Jimmy soared fifty feet through the air, skidding over jagged rocks. A small hiss came to his ears. His faceplate was cracked just below his left eye. The readout showed the system working to compensate for the drop in pressure, but it wouldn’t be long.

“Jimmy!” Janey yelled for him again. He tried to raise himself, but his arms were limp, fatigue overcoming him, no air to breathe.

Jimmy, her voice more distant than before. He could feel himself going into shock and wondered what would happen to Janey.

Jimmy. Fainter still. His eyes rolled as darkness enveloped him. Why couldn’t he save her?


“Jimmy. Supper.” His mother called from the back door. Jimmy opened his eyes, clouds now covered the sun, and he could feel a dampness now clinging to his clothes.

Sighing deeply, Jimmy unlocked his wheels and turned his chair around. Pushing hard, he rolled up over the walkway his dad had constructed last summer for him to “walk” out into the back field. A tear cooled softly on his cheek as he moved toward the house.

Rolling up the ramp, Jimmy made his way into the kitchen. From across the back lawn he could hear Mrs. Parks next door calling her own children to supper.

“Tom. Janey. Hurry up or it’ll get cold.”

And the sound of the door closing behind him rang heavy in his ears.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Warrior27: the Collection more preview art

Here's another look at one of the stories recently colored for the collection debuting at SPX next month. This one is from Dan's story "Ticking Away" with artist Nicolas Colacitti. Dan managed to place this story, in its black and white incarnation, with Arcana comics and their Dark Horrors 2 anthology, which was very cool.

But I digress. For your viewing pleasure, one of the newly colored pages and the original b/w edition for comparison's sake.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What I'm Reading: Strange Science Fantasy, Captain Swing, Daredevil: Black & White

Due to a number of circumstances - including being out of work for a number of months and winding down my current job, which is only temporary - I have cut way back on my comic buying, which was slim to begin with. Combined with my fiscal reality, I was also feeling burnt out on comics, reading many things that were not staying with me. Nothing seemed to resonate, drowning under the weight of my pile.

I did keep with a very few series - having ordered up to issue #49 of Ex Machina, it would have been foolish to forego the final issue that wrapped up the entire series (though that one felt rushed and unfinished). And there are some creators whose work I won't pass up barring the most dire of economic realities (Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Los Bros Hernandez, and Scott Morse are my Mt. Rushmore of creators).

Which brings me to three of the best comics I have read in a long, long time. These books all came out recently and have made me more excited about reading comics than I've been for a while. These are books I will most definitely re-read at some point down the line (most likely many times, they are that good).

First, I picked up the initial issue of Warren Ellis's latest (or one of his latest) mini series from Avatar. I enjoy Ellis as a creator and his Avatar books have been particularly enjoyable. William Christensen, the publisher, gives his creators free reign to write and draw the books they want to do that the mainstream publishers won't do, and Avatar pays a comparable rate to that of the big guns. Which means we get undistilled Ellis, Ennis, Moore, et al. and it's more often than not brilliant. Though, Ignition City - one of Ellis's recently finished Avatar books - left me wanting more, a lot more. The art was serviceable and the story didn't excite me like his initial notes for the project as they were put forth on his now-defunct e-mailing, Bad Signal. So, I stopped pre-ordering his series and figured I would just stay away.

But I was in my LCS the other day and saw the first couple issues on the rack. The cover is gorgeous, and I decided to pick up the first one to see if it caught my imagination. And it did. Set in 1830s England, the old stable of constabulary and the new one are at odds with one another as a new villain wreaks havoc in London. Coined "Spring-Heeled Jack" this criminal utilizes electricity to propel himself over the rooftops in order to escape his adversaries while sailing off in an electrical pirate ship to his lair - all before the births of Tesla or Marconi. This series promises to tell the secret history of London as shown in the periodic journal pages from Captain Swing's (Spring-Heeled Jack's) journal. It's an interesting concept that involves a number of favorite tropes of mine including historical references and a science fiction feel that is as new as it is "retro," and I am looking forward to the eventual trade of this series.

I need also note that Raulo Caceres, who collaborated with Ellis on Crecy, is an artist whose work is worth seeking out. His attention to detail and flair for comic storytelling is fantastic and is perfect for this story. Lots of fun, good "Ellis-ian" ideas, and a mystery hanging at the edges that I look forward to seeing resolved.

The second book I picked up this past week was something I noticed in Previews when I was on CGS a couple months back - Daredevil: Black and White. 32, ad-free pages of b&w goodness. This is a Daredevil book you can sink your teeth into. Ann Nocenti returns (her run in the eighties with JRJr is a high point for me and one of the treasures in my personal collection) with a short prose story with spot illustrations by David Aja (from DD #500). It's perfectly moody and brooding as Matt toils with the realities of his life as a super-sensitive costumed hero. With wonderfully lucid prose that really get into the psyche of Matt Murdock and moody artwork reminiscent of David Mazzucchelli, perhaps the best DD artist in the book's history, this is worth the price of the book alone.

But there are two other stories hidden within. The second one I have yet to read, but the opening salvo from Peter Milligan and artist Michele Bertilorenzi is another brilliant feature. In it, Milligan asks, what would Matt Murdock do if offered the ability to regain his sight, and how would that affect him as Daredevil? It's a poignant tale that gets to the heart of who Matt Murdock is, and is one I want to re-read soon. It's that good, and the art complements the story nicely. Again, this one's worth admission price alone.

The final book is one I've been looking forward to since Scott Morse first mentioned it on his blog last year. Strange Science Fantasy. Morse is taking the 1950s science fiction tropes found in films and Marvel comics of the time (before they were Marvel, I know) and playing with them in his own distinct manner. Morse is a creators who always brings a sense of fun to his stories while also being able to tell stories that are meaningful as well. He jumps from genre to genre with ease, and I'll follow his work anywhere.

This series is from IDW and the first 2 of 6 issues are already available. Each book is 32 pages with no ads and a 1-page back up from Paul Pope. Getting these two artists into the same book is a joy for any comic fan. If you like campy sci-fi and fun comics, then you should check out this beauty. Guaranteed, you will not be disappointed.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Batman: the Dark Knight Returns pt 2

So, the Legion of Dudes released their second episode examining the Dark Knight Returns, analyzing - appropriately - the second issue of this landmark series. To listen to or download the episode check here.

and below, you'll find my notes for this same issue. I'll be guesting on the third episode and am really anxious to discuss this series with the Dudes. Hopefully, I won't clam up like I did my previous time I was on with these guys.



- ** the 16-panel grid Miller uses is similar to the 9-grid from Watchmen. It allows him to pace the story very specifically, gives him the opportunity to create splash pages that MEAN SOMETHING, plus using the 16-grid in this story gives it a claustrophobic feel, which fits perfectly to the type of story and to the thematic elements of Bruce Wayne’s journey in Dark Knight, in that one could interpret that he’s feeling claustrophobic from being only Bruce Wayne, unable to get “out of his box” and follow his natural instinct, which is to be Batman and take care of his city.
- Lynn Varley’s coloring showcases this is not a typical comic story. The opening page, is all grays as Jim Gordon thinks about the past, wades through it, seeing it in every corner of the city, but when the present interrupts, there’s a small burst of color from the visor of the Mutant gang member.
- Is this the first mention of Sarah Essen (though we might not have known that at the time)

- That opening page also makes for a nice contrast when we first see Carrie in the Robin costume. The red really pops because of this set up with the coloring.

- PAGE 3: “harmful influence on the children of Gotham,” which has been a cry from fans examining the Batman & Robin dynamic over the years.

- PAGE 8: “Should’ve gotten out of the way, Spot –”
Batman crashing through the wall – Miller is cementing the “legend” of Batman with this book. The way he was re-introduced in the first issue (glimpses) and the way he got Harvey at the end of that issue, and now his one-man war on crime and the way he does it, it’s all about creating a LEGEND.

- PAGE 10: I like how Chuck Brick, the politician has the exact same look in every panel, just like actual politicians

- PAGE 11: This interrogation scene, where the panels are black, that was brilliant. I remember being blown away by that when I first read it – punctuated by “the scream alone was worth it,” on the following page. Hard core Batman.

- PAGE 15: Miller’s storytelling is deft in many places, particularly in the two panels where the newscaster tells of the suicide of General Briggs. In that second panel we get the reason he sold the weapons to the Mutant Gang (in order to pay for a rare medical treatment for his wife, which had been denied by his insurance company), which is also a similar motivation used in Daredevil: Born Again, for the honest cop who helps frame Matt Murdock.

- The attack on the Mutant Gang
- Love the Batmobile
- Man, like Watchmen, I feel the pain from this fight, and I worried about how Batman was going to come out of this. Is this the first time we’ve seen him with a VERY REAL CHANCE OF DYING???

- PAGE 28: Again, Miller introduces a major hero character – Superman – without actually showing the reader. We get just a glimpse. But it’s well done, the way in which the fluttering American flag morphs into Superman’s S-shield, symbolizing that Superman IS America.

- I like all the vignettes of people inspired by Batman. They’re all distinct. I also appreciate the irony Miller infuses this section with when the one that is successful (the shop owner stopping a mugging by a mutant gang member) does not make the news, since it wasn’t violent enough (like the porn theater gunman and the former boxer dressing up in a batsuit)

- The second fight with the Mutant Gang Leader is where we again see the methodical Batman (his initial defeat being the impulsive Bruce Wayne from the opening of the story). The internal monologue shows us his planning, while again exhibiting his age in his assessment of the situation, allowing the audience to relate to Batman.

- AND, the manner in which Batman goes about setting up the fight – asking Gordon to release the Mutant Leader, so he could come right into his trap – is Miller once more cementing the “legendary” status of Batman

Friday, August 20, 2010

Warrior27: the Collection preview

For economic reasons, we published our issues of Warrior27 in black and white. Paying for color (not just the actual coloring of the stories but also for the color reproduction) was too cost-prohibitive, and there is a “badge of honor” related to black and white comics when self-publishing. It’s an aesthetic that appeals to me, and one we tried to exploit with the artists we were fortunate to work with.

But with our plans for the collection, we knew there needed to be something new for the book. Dan and I achieved some of that by culling through our personal archives and including new pieces like the spotlight on Bryan Talbot's the Tale of One Bad Rat. But for the comic stories we were reprinting – along with the new comic stories included – we thought it would be nice if we hired someone to color them.
Most of the comic tales from the first four issues are now colored, and will be available in the new collection. At some point, we will try to get those up here on the site and our sister site. But for now, here’s a sample of what you can expect, with the original b/w page for comparison.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Elephant Words week #9

More flash fiction from Elephant Words. Inspired by the above image. This is another piece I would like to expand someday. Enjoy.

By Chris Beckett

Boots scrape through rough gravel as I walk across the dull gray expanse. The sound echoes softly in my ears, as if from far away, and I wonder again if I should have come here. At the edge of my vision, I spy figures moving in the ruins – the emaciated ghosts of the prisoners that were sent here to their deaths. I squint hard, looking for you both, but the images remain indistinct.

When I inquired as to a guide in the village, nobody would speak with me. I understand better now that cold response. All joy has been leeched from this place, replaced by shadows of the horror that lived here decades earlier. I try to think happy thoughts but find it difficult, able only to consider the bloody history that surrounds me. Shoulders heavy, I plod forward, determined not to give in as I have done so many times before.

The old buildings have crumbled during the intervening years, nobody to take care of them, none willing to observe the decay as it set in. They speak to me – these rotting husks – imparting the atrocities that inhabited this field, and still inhabits it today. Their sullen whispers send shivers through me as a stinging tear forms against my wishes. Clutching at the air, fists flexing without thought, I let the pain wash over me, hoping it won’t follow when I leave.

Again I ask myself, why did I travel all the way out here? What do I hope to accomplish? Am I looking for answers? I don’t know. I’ve avoided this journey for too long and whatever comes of this, it’s important that I find something to close the wounds laying on my soul.

It’s a fool's errand. There is no solace here. No retribution.

I cast my gaze around, taking everything in. Tiny islands of grass vainly spread across the hardened dirt – testaments to the hope found in all life, examples of the futility that defines this place. A pall hangs over this land, a stultifying odor more hinted at than genuine. I close my eyes and see the ashes floating across the winds, mixing with the dirt at my feet, spreading over everything like some gruesome snow flurry. It is this that I smell, that I feel coursing coldly through my veins. It is alive, and it eats at me as I try to work out the contradictions racing through my mind.

It’s years since you died – only months apart as it should have been – and only now do I find the courage to visit this place where you first met. How could you have discovered love in such an ugly place? Did you need to retreat from the horrors, to discover solace and warmth in each other’s arms? Or was it something else, something more mundane that brought you together in this hell? No matter, it happened. A miracle in a sea of filth.

Bending down, I run my fingers over the gnarled wire that seems to grow from the earth. So ruddy, I wonder if it’s rust or what’s left of the blood that flowed so readily here.

I don’t know if you can hear me, but I can feel you in this place. I wanted to tell you I’m a father. It sounds foolish when I consider it, like I’m still playing at being grown up, but it’s true. Dieter Ahrends. I can still hear his breathing in my ear as I rocked him to sleep on my shoulder last night. Every time I look at him I think of you, and I wonder, how can I expect to be a good father?

It wasn’t planned. Truth be told, I didn’t want to be a father. It scared me when Ariana told me, and I thought about leaving. I tried to explain my fears to her, but she just looked at me with those hurt eyes and crushed my heart. I couldn’t leave then.

And now.

I’m glad I stayed. Dieter is . . . amazing – so tiny and delicate, and yet so full of life. How could I not love him? But I wonder if this euphoria will last, or will genetics kick in. Because how can I hope to be a good parent when I now know who you were? It’s almost funny – me, the son of an SS-Gruppenf├╝hrer and Aufseherin, a good father.

I take a deep breath, my shoulders easing just a little. What I needed to do, I’ve done. My wife waits for me with our son. I look around once more and although the ghosts still haunt my vision, I feel relieved.

I can finally go home.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New FYC with Bryan Talbot in W27: the Collection

I’ve written about this before, but one of the best pieces of advice I found regarding writing came from Steven Grant and his former CBR column. Grant stated that one of the best things to do as an aspiring writer is to take the opportunity to write for publication wherever that opportunity may arise. If you have aspirations as a fiction writer, take the chance to write some non-fiction, or write ad copy, or whatever. Any chance to write can only help you improve as a writer, and what you learn can be applied to that expansive novel sitting on your hard drive.

To that end, I answered a call for writers at the Pulse back in early 2007.

For slightly more than a year, I contributed a weekly column to the Pulse spotlighting small press and web comics and their creators. Along with analysis of the comic, each piece included a short Q&A with creators and publishers. Not only was I filling a niche that I felt lacking on the site and getting a chance to highlight some of the great mini-comics and small press books I had discovered after my first trip to SPX, but I also got the chance to interact with some of the creators for whom I have a great admiration.

Some creators I had the privilege of interviewing included Paul Pope, Scott Morse, Marvin Mann, Dean Haspiel, Warren Ellis, and Steve Rude, among others. But when the column finished at the Pulse, there were still a number of articles I had yet to write, with unused interviews sitting on my hard drive. Now, with the new collection, I’ve had a chance to unearth one of these interviews and create a brand new edition of For Your Consideration spotlighting The Tale of One Bad Rat with a short Q&A with writer/artist Bryan Talbot. I’m very excited about this. At some point, I’ll be running the full piece here on the site, but if you want to check it out before then – and get some great comics and prose on top of that – check us out at SPX or keep your eyes peeled for when the book goes on sale here at the site after we return from Maryland.

And, to whet your appetite, here’s a short quote from the interview with Talbot:
“Persistence seems to be the overriding factor [for breaking into comics]. If you have the talent and really want to do it, don't give up. Bad Rat was rejected by every publisher of illustrated books in Britain. This is before the current boom in graphic novels, when "comics" was a dirty word.”


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

From the Archives: an interview with Antony Johnston

Before I landed the gig writing for the Pulse, I found - through Warren Ellis's late, lamented ENGINE - an upstart web presence dedicated to independent comics, called Independent Propaganda. I cut my teeth there, writing reviews of some of my favorite comics while also getting the opportunity to interview some great - and, at the time, little-known - creators. One of those was Antony Johnston, currently co-writing Daredevil as Matt Murdock goes through his first "event."

He was more than gracious, and far more patient, with me. Having started in journalism himself, Johnston kindly answered all of my questions (nearly twenty) and included a short note regarding the fact that, if one does an interview via email then the respondent must type out all their answers. It seems obvious, but was not from my writing desk here in Maine. I will be eternally grateful to Mr. Johnston for his kindness in imparting this lesson while also slogging through my many questions.

This would have run at some point in late 2006/early 2007. Please consider it in that context, and enjoy.


Antony Johnston has quietly made his mark in the comic industry as a writer who will provide intelligent and entertaining tales from companies such as Oni Press and Avatar Press. Refusing to be pigeon-holed, he has developed graphic novels in the western, horror, and international espionage genres – among others – with artists as varied as Eduardo Barreto and Brett Weldele. His latest creation with artist Christopher Mitten from Oni Press, WASTELAND, is a dystopian future epic that is also his first ongoing series. Like THE SANDMAN, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, and PREACHER before it, WASTELAND will have a definite ending, and judging by the first issue it will be a compelling journey for those lucky enough to seek it out. Mr. Johnston was kind enough to answer some questions via email for Independent Propaganda upon returning home to England from the San Diego Comic-Con and I want to thank him for his thoughtful responses and generous assistance with the following interview. I hope you enjoy.

- Can you tell us briefly how you broke into comics?

The short version is that I created an online serial, an illustrated prose story called FRIGHTENING CURVES with artist Aman Chauhary, that got picked up to be completed as a book by a small indie publisher. I then did a graphic novel, ROSEMARY'S BACKPACK, with the same publisher and shortly afterward was introduced to the guys at Oni Press.

- What do you feel is the most important factor from your personal history (education, family) that has allowed you to be successful in the comic industry?

I'm from a very normal working-class background, with an average education. I've seen the reality of working 'a real job', both in my family and my own early working life, and know that the only thing separating me from plenty of other people who grew up in the same situation is tenacity.

The fact that I get paid to sit at home and make up stories is still kind of amazing to me, and I know how fortunate I am to be doing it. That's what gives me that tenacity, it really is that simple.

- Many creators, especially when starting out, hold down a day job while creating their comics. What jobs, if any, did you have and did they provide anything for you with regards to your writing?

I was a graphic designer for many years, and spent the last four years of that period writing in my spare time - role playing game stuff to start with, then moving into comics. Being a designer gives me a certain visual literacy which is helpful for doing comics; and having worked in consumer newsstand magazines, an industry in which missing deadlines is simply not an option, gave me a respect for working to deadline that's also helpful.

- When they are first trying to break into comics, many writers have difficulty finding artists able to realize their story samples. What can they do to overcome this?

Keep trying, and realise that you're not going to get Jim Lee right out of the gate. There's not a lot else I can say that would be helpful. Yes, many aspiring artists will flake and let you down. But just as many aspiring writers flake and let artists down. You just have to keep going, keep looking for someone to work with. The day you give up and say it's not worth the hassle is the day you've proved yourself right. Just keep going.

- What do you feel aspiring creators can do in order to better their chances of becoming published?

Create good stories. Finish them (that's much more important, and rarer, than you might think). Get them published by any means necessary, including self-publishing, and don't expect to get paid for it. In fact, expect to lose money on it. Then use that finished comic as your calling card with other publishers.

That path used to be rarer, but now it's pretty much the de facto route into comics, and I think it works very well. Think of it like a band producing a demo tape, or performing small-time gigs. Being good is not good enough if no-one sees you in action. You have to prove to publishers that you're committed to comics, and there's no better way to do that than to do your first few stories for no money and possibly no gain.

- What creators, possibly more obscure ones and not necessarily within comics, would you recommend aspiring writers read and study?

I'm not going to name names. I could reel off five writers or movie directors whose work I regard as essential that would be useless to half of your audience. It's pointless. The important thing is to seek people out, and don't rely on the mainstream (in any media) to feed you the good stuff. You have to go out and find it for yourself.

Find people who produce the kind of stories you want to tell, or write about things you find interesting; and, from time to time, seek out the complete opposite. Sometimes it's very useful to read a book or watch a movie that you absolutely hate. Examine why you can't stand it. Work out what's wrong with it. These things will help you.

- Marvel and DC seem to be pushing sales through a series of crossover “events” and relaunches meant to feed off that hive mentality of needing the next new thing. Admittedly, they have to answer to shareholders, but what could they be doing differently in order to promote sales?

Honestly, I don't know. Within the direct market, there isn't much else the majors *could* be doing to push sales - it's what they do, month in, month out. And outside of the direct market, well, if anyone actually knew the catch-all answer to that one, they'd be sitting on a goldmine.

- This apparent need to utilize gimmicks in order to artificially inflate sales in the short-term almost begs the question, what is missing from mainstream comics today that has caused this sales drop- off? In your opinion, what do you feel is lacking in today’s mainstream comics?

Diversity. But was it homogeneity that killed direct market sales, or was it the direct market itself? We'll never know, because the audience doesn’t embrace diversity. Chicken, meet egg.

I don't work in mainstream comics, at least in the way comics defines the term, so I can't really speak to what is or isn't wrong with them. 90% of the comics mainstream is of very little interest to me. (And the other 10% is mostly Vertigo books.)

- For you, what are the advantages of working with Oni or Avatar rather than Marvel and DC?

Control and freedom. They're pretty much inversely proportionate to money and fame, of course, but I can live with that.

- Do you feel the recent push toward graphic novels – both collections and original works – and bookstore distribution has been good for the industry? Why, or why not?

Of course. I was one of the people pushing hardest for OGNs for many years. I would love to see an industry that is entirely OGN-based, and I think we'll get there eventually. But there are financial hurdles to overcome, not to mention problems of perception with the hardcore comic audience, before we can get there.

The OGN boom has both hurt and helped the industry (note: the industry, not the medium. They've done nothing but help the medium). It's undoubtedly one of the things that has helped the medium's perception among non-hardcore readers, who simply can't understand why anyone would read these weird, anemically thin chapters one at a time and have to go buy a new one every month.

On the other hand, the aforementioned financial hurdles have bitten at all publishers, large and small, because the OGN market and its sales patterns are completely different to that of serial comics. It's a testing time for everyone.

- From your position as an independent creator, what are some things you would like to see change with the current distribution system?

Almost everything. The direct market is completely fucked up, on every level. That it works very well for some publishers and retailers doesn't mean it's not, it just means those companies have worked the existing system to their advantage and done it well. There's nothing wrong with that. But if the direct market remains the primary means of distributing comics, it's going to implode within ten or twenty years.

Of course, by then I should be sipping cocktails on a Pacific island somewhere, so I don't really care.

- Your books have cut across a number of genres – from western to science fiction to horror. Was this a conscious decision on your part or did it just happen that way?

A bit of both. It's conscious in the sense that of course I'm aware of it, and every time I pitch a book I'm making a decision to work in whatever genre that book happens to be. But I don't deliberately set out to hop between genres, I just come up with story ideas and pitch them.

I don't care about genre, I don't care about classifications or pigeonholes or any of that rubbish. I just want to write good stories, and if I have a good idea for a story I'll do it, regardless of what genre label someone else wants to slap on it. A good story is a good story. If I ever stop myself writing something good just because it's the 'wrong' genre for me - or deliberately write something bad just because it will sell - then I may as well turn off the computer and go stack shelves in the local supermarket, because it wouldn't be fun any more.

- Did you find yourself writing any differently for a veteran such as Eduardo Barreto as compared to a relative newcomer such as Christopher Mitten?

If you looked at the scripts, you'd think not; but the mental process is very different, because with a master like Eduardo you know you're writing for someone who is a great storyteller, someone who can draw anything you want and make it look good. With someone less experienced, you find yourself pausing every so often to make sure that you're being clear in the script, check you're not taking too many shortcuts that they might not know how to deal with. But like I say, if you actually looked at the scripts you'd see there's very little different in style between them. It’s all just a mental process.

And of course, with Chris Mitten specifically it turns out he's *already* a storytelling wiz, with a clarity far beyond his years. So I lucked out there.

- Part of the writing process is the developmental stage – either hard research as with THE LONG HAUL or the development of characters, locales, plotlines, etc. as with WASTELAND. On average what percentage is given over to the developmental process?

Actually, you might be surprised just how much 'hard research' goes into WASTELAND as well... The amount of time devoted to it differs from book to book. SPOOKED didn't require much, because so much of the story grew out of my own knowledge and musings about magic and spirituality anyway. JULIUS took months, longer than the actual scripting, because I had to not only 'translate' the play to the modern age, but also then come up with situations in the new setting that would parallel the play without being slavish to it.

THE LONG HAUL also took months - an enormous amount of research into Old West methods of transport and communication. Not to mention Indian history, safe cracking, styles of wardrobe, suitable locations and so on. But that also took months to write, so it's about fifty- fifty.

And WASTELAND is ongoing; I'm still researching it as I write, because there's always something new to research in a world so changed from our own. The research and planning of WASTELAND takes far longer than the actual scripting.

- Along those same lines, during this development process do you ever feel like you are not getting enough actual writing done and how do you reconcile yourself to that?

Always, without exception. But then when I'm writing, I always wish I’d done that little bit of extra research. It's the bane of just about every writer I know. You want to arm yourself with as much information as possible, but eventually you have to say "enough" and get writing. It's way too easy to convince yourself you need to read *just* one more book and *then* you'll be ready, honest...

- Your new series WASTELAND is your first ongoing series. What has been the biggest challenge with this thus far?

Plotting. My stories are normally self-contained, generally the equivalent of about a six-issue miniseries. So planning the story beats of something so large in scope and long in format is a very new and strange experience for me. But it keeps me on my toes, and I like it. Challenges like that stop me from getting stale.

- With WASTELAND, is it a concern of yours to make each issue accessible to new readers? And if so, how will you achieve this?

To an extent. Each issue has a "story so far" recap on the inside front page, and I think that suffices. I assume my readers are intelligent. I'm certainly not going to start introducing each character with "Hello, Bob, my old friend of twenty years whose wife left him to raise their only son by himself and suffers from gout! How are you today?"

- Finally, what would you like to say about your upcoming project WASTELAND?

I'd like to say it's the best and most personal thing I've ever written, that Chris Mitten is producing the best work of his career, that Ben Templesmith is doing an awesome job on the covers, and that every single person reading this should go out and buy it right now so that I can go buy that Pacific island. And a cocktail.


Antony Johnston

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Elephant Words week #8

I've stated many times that you should check out the Elephant Words site where six authors create new pieces of writing - one a day, on a rotating schedule - based upon that week's image (which goes up Sunday, meaning writer #1 has roughly 24 hours to get his or her piece onto the site. Three years in, they have yet to miss a day.) Here's another offering based upon the image below. It's something a little different. I hope you enjoy.


Tonight I Sleep

I wander aimlessly,

The horizon a blank slate,

My steps nothing but random thoughts.

Remembering little of the past days,

All before me is empty,

A return to the day I was born.

Reaching back, I haunt my memory,

Searching. Frustrated.

Longing for understanding.

A gun, “I can see you.”

A loud crack. I hit the floor;

A haze engulfs me.

Voices carry. A sweet susurrus lapping

At the shores of my consciousness.

I hear its murmur but nothing more.

And then – sharp focus –

My chest tightens and that voice

Returns, “I can see you.”

What does it mean?

How could I know?

And my mind drifts with my body.

With nothing to anchor me,

I continue for days

Solace a meaningless word.

Day and Night merge,

My compass without bearings

I give up, go limp, fall.

That’s when I see it:

A break in the clouds

Delicate webs parting slowly.

The mast rises high up ahead,

Announcing its arrival while

The main vessel remains shrouded.

A chill runs my spine,

Shooting across my back

As it raises the hair on my neck.

I can’t explain this feeling.

Is it fear? Anxiety?

Or something else entirely?

I look down now and realize

That I no longer walk –

Must not have for a long time.

The sense of flying overwhelms me,

A revelation that leaves me

Wondering how did I not know?

The rolling mist fades more than moves,

Making way for the scarlet ship

Propelled by nothing, moved by everything.

And again, that voice,

“I can see you.”

But this time it’s familiar.

A mixture, like a good recipe,

Nothing distinct and yet wholly its own.

My son/grandmother/father/mother.

They all talk to me, speak

As they once spoke. And their

Sum total comprises that voice.

As too does the one that shot me.

I hear its faint tone lying in wait

Hoping to disrupt me.

But it will not happen.

I know who I am now.

I know where I am now.

Floating with purpose,

I move to the great vessel

Approaching from beneath.

It is something brand new to me

And something as old as time.

It is as it has always been.

Coming over the side, I spy

The crowd on deck and my heart jumps

As it has not for some time.

My family is waiting for me

As I have waited for them.

It has been lonely all these years.

And he is there as well,

Forgiven in a way I’d not thought possible,

And yet my heart does not darken at his presence.

He took them from me –

All of them –

And I vowed revenge.

But when it was time for that,

My hand faltered

Because I was not that man.

And now understanding floods me,

Threatening to overwhelm that which I once was,

But a comfort to that which I now am.

It has been a long journey,

But tonight I will sleep as

I have not for a long time.

Tonight I will sleep with my family.

Tonight I will sleep with my enemy.

Tonight I will sleep forever.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Warrior27: the Collection @ Small Press Expo in September

We’re a month out from SPX – the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland – and my co-conspirator, Dan Fleming, and I will have something new for the show – Warrior27: the Collection. 254 pages, digest-sized, black and white + color interiors, with many of the best pieces from the original issues and some new and never before published pieces, this is a big book of stories in multiple genres with artwork from some of the best artists in the world you’ve never heard of.

Over the past five years, Dan and I have self-published four issues of our comics & prose anthology, Warrior27 (an homage to the early eighties British magazine, Warrior). We wanted a receptacle, so to speak, for the stories we wanted to tell. We love comics – the synergy of words and pictures – and wanted to create our own tales regardless of genre or style. Our initial plans involved multi-part epics that would continue from book to book, but we learned early on that this wasn’t a feasible option considering the fact that we were paying to print these books and probably could not afford to produce more than one issue a year.

So we stepped back, reassessed our plan, and moved forward with self-contained short stories. Many writers have stated that one of the best ways to train for writing a lengthy narrative is to master the short story. Condensing the form to its bare essence allows for growth and expansion later, and many of my favorite authors – Harlan Ellison, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway – are masters of the form.

We’re excited for this collection. Not only were we able to go back and color many of the stories that originally were published in black and white, but we have also been able to go back into the “archives” and include some things that never made it into print or onto the web before. In the weeks leading up to SPX, we’ll be showcasing some of the artwork found within the collection and teasing at some of the never before published pieces that now have a home, as we prepare for the trip to Maryland.

So come on back to see what’s coming up, and if you can’t make it to SPX, we’ll be offering the book for sale here on the site once the show is done. And maybe there will be an announcement as far as distribution down the line. We’ll see.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Batman: the Dark Knight Returns pt 1

Over at the Legion of Dudes podcast, the dudes are stripping down Frank Miller's seminal work (along with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley) of an aging Bruce Wayne and his return to crime fighting as Batman, after 10 years in retirement. They will be doing an issue by issue analysis/discussion of the book, which is something I am really looking forward to. The first part can be found here.

I've also begun re-reading this book again, and here are some of my scattered thoughts on the first issue.

- Other than some scattered issues (400, two parts of Year One, the Millennium crossover) this was probably my first Batman comic I ever read.

- The opening pages really set the scene – Lynn Varley’s muted colors, the claustrophobia of the 16-panel grid Miller uses, the smoke and haze he draws across Gotham, it all sets the mood, a feeling of things having moved on, things being bleak.
And Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne both look old. The lines on their face; these guys have been through a lot.

- PAGE 7: “Arkham Home for the emotionally troubled,” not criminally insane

- PAGE 9: When Bruce Wayne comments that, “we must believe in Harvey Dent. We must believe that our private demons can be defeated . . .” he is talking about himself and about trying to keep his urge to be Batman at bay

- It’s ironic that Jason Todd’s death was the impetus for Batman’s retirement, when DKR was created before “A Death in the Family.”

- Is it significant that Harvey Dent’s psychiatrist has a “Hitler” mustache? (Dr. Wolper did release Harvey Dent/Two-Face back into the world)

- PAGE 15: In Miller’s recreation of the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, The panels where Bruce’s father dies and the emotion on young Bruce’s face is perfect. Miller really captures the moment here, and the utilization of the 16-grid works very well in showing this moment without any dialogue.

- PAGE 20-25: The way Miller reintroduces Batman, having him come from the shadows, only showing pieces (a hand, a foot, a bit of cape) is brilliant. It enhances the myth that is Batman, his wish to instill fear in the hearts of the criminals. And then on page 26, that’s how to use a splash page. Miller built up the anticipation with the 16-grid on the previous six pages, using small panels to create a frenetic pace, and then BAM! The Batman is in our face on that big splash. Brilliant.
** Interesting that Batman uses the phrase that he’s “born again,” considering Miller’s seminal work for Marvel and these both were coming out at roughly the same time.

- The voice-over by Batman as he takes out the bank robbers, really makes him a totally new character. He’s a bad-ass, and Miller taps into that feeling in all of us of wanting to be able to balance things, to make things right. These robbers shouldn’t be getting away and shouldn’t have the opportunity to do it again. Batman takes care of them in a way the legal system can’t.
Miller also showcases Batman’s intelligence as he lets the final guy lose his cool, waits for him to come closer before acting. Methodical and smart.

- PAGE 32: both sides of the coin are scarred. A classic example of letting the art tell the story.

- PAGE 33: The resurgence of the common man’s will that Lana (Lang?) speaks of on television with Batman’s reappearance is compounded by Batman's reappearance giving resurgence to the Joker’s will to live as evidenced in these panels.

- PAGE 40: Even though Miller is making Batman larger than life (with his return despite being sixty), he also grounds him, makes him very human (the voice-over on this page where he shifts his legs to stop them cramping, or the pain crossing his back as he climbs “it used to be easier.” On the next page) and makes readers relate to him even more because of this. It pulls the audience in, great storytelling.

- PAGE 42, bottom panel: that image with the huge cape flowing as Batman aims the rifle is priceless, like the way Berni Wrightson drew Batman in Swamp Thing in the 70s.

- PAGE 43: the reason for the yellow symbol, brilliant.

- PAGE 44: Another fantastic splash page. Again, worthy of the moment. Only the second in these first 48 pages.

- At the end of this first chapter, Batman understands that Harvey is only a reflection of himself. But, the question is, what will Bruce Wayne do about this revelation?

The second installment from the Dudes should arrive in a couple of weeks, and each successive chapter probably two weeks thereafter. I'm looking forward to it.