Sunday, June 5, 2011

FYC Replay: Evenfall by Pete Stathis

Another of my weekly installments from the archive - this one spotlighting Pete Stathis's fantasy series Evenfall. Pete's a very generous person and a talented artist. If you're a fan of fantasy tales, this book is worth checking out.

Thanks and enjoy.


Lauded by Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), James Lucas Jones (Oni Press), and Katie Haegele of the Philadelphia Weekly, Evenfall is a magical tale that combines the harsh realities of everyday life with a fantasy world that is as deadly as it is otherworldly. Pete Stathis has created a series that speaks to everyone, revealing – with unflinching honesty – how hard it can be to cope with what life throws at you. Make with the “clicky” and discover a young artist working to push the medium forward.

The 411:


Volume I: Lay Me Down (SLG Publishing)

Volume II: Soul to Keep (Blue Feather Press)

Written & Drawn by Pete Stathis

b/w, 104 pp.

$9.95 each

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

Phoebe Shankar’s life has turned upside down. Nineteen is a difficult age for anyone, but Phoebe’s situation is more unstable than most. Nine months prior, her mother passed away from cancer, leaving Phoebe – who had been enrolled at University – as the new landlord for all her mother’s holdings. Dropping out of school, Phoebe now has to deal with all the problems requisite with this station, and though many of her classmates respect her decision, it’s unfair to ask one so young to grow up so fast.

Since her mother died, Phoebe has refused to confront the grief welling inside her. But recently, something strange has occurred that will force her to look deep into her own soul. Her dreams have become more vivid, inhabited by odd creatures – large lizards, talking pigs, and other unseemly beasts – she must fight to stay alive and find her way back to the waking world. And when not pursued by these otherworldly creatures, Phoebe is forced to relive moments from her recent past that are better left alone.

Conflicted, Phoebe continues to stumble through life, following a self-destructive path as her life continues to spiral more out of control. Robin, who shares Phoebe’s apartment with her, finally sits her down after another anxious spell to speak with his friend. Working to find the right words, he confides in Phoebe that she needs to remember she has friends that can help, friends that remember her mother. With that simple statement a flood of memories come back to both of them, and they end up laughing about the good times they had when her mother was still alive. It’s a touching moment, and an important one, because Phoebe is able, finally, to confront the agony she has been holding in for so long, and for those few minutes all the weight is lifted from her shoulders.

But her reprieve does not last long. Phoebe’s dreams continue to trouble her and even follow her into the waking world as the earth swallows her while she stands at her mother’s grave. Falling through the cancer ward where her Mom lay dying in the past, Phoebe eventually emerges in a cloudy sky, the wind lashing at her body, buffeting Phoebe as she settles into a freefall. In every other dream of this nature, she’s always landed on her feet, and despite the ground rushing up to meet her, Phoebe’s expectation is that this time will be like all the rest. But expectation can often conflict reality.

And when Phoebe next awakes, she is looking down at her twisted body, which lay in a pool of blood. She has crossed over into a different plane of reality, one that is home to dark demons and otherworldly heroes. But whether Phoebe is truly alive or dead is a question that cannot be answered. At least, not yet.

Pete Stathis has created a compelling narrative full of the hardships we all must face at some point in our lives. Though Phoebe’s situation may be slightly removed from that of the average reader, it is still one to which Stathis’s audience can relate. It is a rare person that has not had his or her life touched by cancer, and even if that connection is tenuous, one can still understand the difficulty and anxiety concomitant such a tragedy. Stathis masterfully conveys these feelings of anguish and guilt without falling into maudlin sentiment, which would be an easy trap for any storyteller. He prefers to deal with the reality of such a situation, mixing a very genuine feeling of sadness with the less admirable, but no less real, feelings of anger and frustration that must accompany such misfortune.

The depressing reality of Phoebe’s life is also mirrored in the fantasy world into which Stathis drops his protagonist with the second volume of Evenfall. Acting as a metaphor for the journey upon which Phoebe must embark in order to ultimately find peace in her life, it is a journey of which there can be no assurance of success. Hounded by the dark lord and his minions within this ethereal land, Phoebe is lucky to enlist some strange allies that will help see her through if they are able.

There is also a greater mystery hanging over the larger story that Stathis is creating. Although he reveals some pieces of the puzzle within the thread of his narrative, Stathis is a confident enough storyteller to allow these revelations to tease themselves out in a natural manner while leaving much hidden beneath the surface. It’s a difficult balancing act – show too much and disappoint one’s audience, show too little and lose their interest – but Stathis finds a middle ground that pushes the narrative forward while leaving the larger mystery safely hidden.

Stathis is also the artist, bringing a grounded sense of storytelling to this tale of fantasy and despair. Preferring to leave the dramatic panel layouts to others, Stathis chooses to stick with a clear style that allows the story to flow effortlessly. This also makes it easier for readers to follow and allows for his more dramatic images to stand out, punctuating the feeling for which he strives. A train spiraling out of the panel or a jagged border, used sparingly by Stathis, only add to the emotional impact of this tale while also giving visual cues to the emotional tenor of Phoebe.

It is obvious that Stathis is an artist who has given a lot of thought to the story he is telling and the medium within which he is telling it. Understanding the unique strengths inherent within comics allows him to create a more engaging and complex tale. I anxiously await the third volume of Evenfall and would heartily recommend you seek out the first two in order to discover a new artist working to push the medium forward.

An Interview with Pete Stathis:

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

Pete Stathis: I’ve been drawing comics since I was five or six years old. I was just going through some boxes in the basement and I found this terrible little comic I drew from around that age – I mean it’s basically stick figures – of the Super Friends rescuing a train from a tornado. I don’t remember drawing it, and for all I know I lifted the story from an episode of the TV show, but anyway it just goes to show that I’ve always wanted to draw comics.

There’s a family of artists here in Philly – the Tiberinos – who I grew up with, and the two older sons were like big brothers to me and they were heavy, heavy into comics. So when I was about seven or eight they began my education, always bringing over their latest purchases, teaching me about the “cool” superheroes, etc. I remember jumping around on the furniture with three magic markers taped to the back of each hand pretending to be Wolverine. That’s the kind of stuff we did. On Saturday mornings we would all go to art classes and draw from life, and then in the afternoons we’d go over to Joe Tiberino’s bar / art gallery, Bacchanal, and we’d sit in the art gallery drinking free sodas from behind the bar and drawing superheroes in our sketchbooks.

Later on, in college, I really got into the indie scene and I was reading Sandman and Strangers in Paradise and Stray Bullets. I realized I could use comics to tell any kind of story at all because of those books. So I cranked out the first issue of Evenfall and began shopping it around, and trying to get advice and critiques from industry folks. At about that time I went on the CBLDF Making Waves cruise, and I met and hung out with some of my heroes and a lot of helpful people in the industry. I got some portfolio reviews and kept on working. By the time I had three issues done, SLG decided to publish me.

Getting back to the question, I suppose I could go on and talk about how Scott McCloud’s books opened my eyes to the untapped power of the medium and all that – which they have – but the real answer is simply that it’s something I’ve always liked to do.

Beckett: Volume 1 of Evenfall was published through SLG, while the second volume came out through your own imprint, Blue Feather Press. With this change, what has been the biggest difference for you, and what have you learned that you’ll be able to apply to volume 3 and future works?

Stathis: I don’t really notice any big difference creatively. I mean, the main thing is that it feels great to have someone else write the check to the printer! Now that I’m that guy, I can put the books out at my own pace, take commissions on the side, etc. I’m very grateful to Dan Vado and SLG for the opportunity they gave me. It was a great way to get my foot in the door of the industry.

What have I learned? I’ve learned that I need to learn to work faster. Steve Lieber once told me “First you get good, then you get fast. Then you get fast and good.” I feel like I’m just getting good at this point. If you look at chapter eight of Evenfall and compare it to chapter one – WHOAH! It’s like two different artists drew them! The speed will come next. I hope.

Beckett: There’s obviously a lot going on beneath the surface of Phoebe’s tale. What was the genesis of this story, and what has been the most challenging aspect of creating Evenfall?

Stathis: The genesis was that my mother died of cancer and I was barely an adult at around 22 years old and I needed some way to deal with it so I wouldn’t go completely crazy. I’ve always been an escapist, and let’s face it: anyone who reads comics is one, so I wrote this story about a girl who is violently launched into a fantasy world when faced with the pain and grief of losing her mother. So the most challenging aspect of creating Evenfall is when I have to write those personal scenes and recall the hard memories of my loss. It’s emotionally draining. But that’s what the book is about, beneath the fantasy adventure surface. That’s what gives it its emotional core and makes it a worthy piece of work.

Beckett: Being the artist as well as the writer, what is your creative process like? Do you write out a script, does the imagery come first, or is it some melding of the two?

Stathis: It’s a mix of the two. My mind is always in chaos. I suck at multi-tasking. I kind of have to ride whatever wave is shooting through my head as it comes by. It’s the only way I ever get anything done. So if I have a cool image in my mind, I work from there. If I have a conversation in mind, I start with a script. I usually start with a script for Evenfall, because the dialogue is very important in it. But if it’s an action scene, or a quiet contemplative scene, the germ is visual.

Beckett: What advice would you give to other self-publishers that you have gained through this journey of yours?

Stathis: God, there’s way too much to go into! But briefly: Make sure you have a good story before you commit to starting on the labor intensive process of the artwork. Also, consider the project visually as a whole before you set out to do it. Make it cohesive and distinctive. Start small. I wrote Evenfall as a twelve issue story, and now I wish I had written it as about half that length. There are other projects I’m dying to work on after this. Consider just releasing your work as a TPB instead of single issues. Single issues are expensive and have a smaller profit margin, plus you have to advertise many times, instead of just a few.

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

Stathis: I’m doing these private commissions called YouComics. Essentially it’s a comic book page about you, your family, your business, whatever you want. It’s complete with story, jokes, title copy, issue number, etc. It’s suitable for framing, posting on your website, or using for advertising. I just started doing them a few months ago and the response has been excellent. You can see some sample YouComics at and you can check out Evenfall at . Thanks for the interview!

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