Saturday, November 26, 2011
Friday, November 25, 2011
Included in the Secret Santa package is a sketch of a character chosen by the receiver and at least 3 comics from your collection that you no longer wish to keep. Last year was the first time I participated, and it was an incredibly fun experience. So, of course, I couldn't wait for this year's list, which got started a few weeks back.
The person for whom I am a "Secret Santa" wanted, for a sketch, either a comic character in an unusual costume/scenario OR any X-Men character of my choice. Not being overly artistic, I initially went with the latter - knowing I could find some good reference and, at the very least, do a pretty good copy of an image - but, as I thought about it, I came up with an image of a couple of X-Men - Wolverine & Nightcrawler - in an unusually festive scenario.
So, since I did this last year, here is my initial sketch for this year's Secret Santa thread @CGS.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Freakangels was/is it.
A free webcomic published by Avatar Press, Ellis and artist Paul Duffield - whose list of credits was minimal prior to this collaboration - finished their story earlier this year. Six volumes (of 144 pages each) comprise this story, and it's not only available to read for free but Avatar has also collected it into hardcover and softcover collections for one's shelf. And, at some point, I plan on getting them because this is something I want to own and be able to easily share with others.
A near-future dystopian tale about a group of kids born at the same moment who were mysteriously, and unknowingly, imbued with powers that, seventeen years later, caused much of London to become a flooded wasteland, Ellis and Duffield join this group six years after their powers manifested and caused the widespread destruction.
Through the course of the series, readers watch as these young men and women - all scared and just trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life - discover the full extent of their powers. With this recognition of how powerful they truly are, the Freakangels finally decide to take more responsibility for their previous actions and return to what they originally sought to accomplish - make the world a better place for everyone.
As trite as that sounds, if you are familiar at all with any of Ellis's work, you know that it's not as easy as this. He puts these characters through the wringer, revealing ugly truths in their pasts that inform their futures, pushing these characters to grow even as many only wish to turn in on themselves. It really is some of his best work, and Paul Duffield's fully-realized and beautiful artwork complements the story wonderfully.
One last thing about this story that stood out for me - and I can't say whether it's perceived or actually something Ellis consciously did in the writing - was the very different feel it had with regard to the pacing of the story. Basically, this lengthy narrative (864 pages) takes place over the course of just a few days (maybe even two), and it feels as if Ellis is able to just take his time with the story. I attributed this, initially, to the fact that it was a webcomic, and thus, was free of the trappings of the periodical print comic, which has strict page counts and certain tropes, such as the cliffhanger at the end of an issue, that work to encourage readers returning for subsequent issues.
As I stated, I don't know if this was just the manner in which I read the story or an actual conscious effort on Ellis's part to structure this story differently (he stated early on that he did not feel beholden to end every week of 6 new pages on a cliffhanger, which was refreshing from my point of view as a reader), but it worked for me. And it allowed the narrative to flow more naturally, which, I believe, is why I feel so strongly about Freakangels.
If you haven't checked it out yet, do yourself a favor and start at page one. I don't believe you'll be disappointed.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
There’s little more I can add that I haven’t already said about the first two volumes. This is a moving tale amplified by the evocative imagery provided by Lemire’s loose, yet consistent artwork. Essex County is one of the most moving comic stories I’ve read in a long time. I would challenge anyone to read this and not come away with the realization they had watched an amazing new talent emerge over the course of these three volumes.
Buy this book.
Read this book.
You will not be disappointed.
And then, once you’ve finally remedied that character flaw, check out the interview Comic Geek Speak did with him a couple years back. It’s really a great conversation, and will enhance your reading experience.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
The first thing I discovered, when I opened the book, was that Yanick Paquette used to be a Mike Mignola clone (which puts him in good stead, as Ryan Sook is another Mignola clone who has gone on to become an amazing comic artist, in his own right). This first tale, written by Christopher Priest for the second JLA Secret Files, brings together a new league (consisting of many who were part of the league disbanded at the end of the previous collection). There’s a nice call-back to the Bwa-ha-ha league with Guy Gardner, in his Guy Gardner Warrior We don’t get a one punch moment like the one provided by DeMatteis, Giffen, & Maguire, back in 1987, but we do get Batman silently putting Guy in his place. guise, assuming the pose he did then, as he prepared to tell everyone he was going to lead.
But this story, though well done, is disappointing. Why did Morrison bother to have the league disband in the prior issue, if there was only going to be a relatively unchanged roster in the next one? Sure, there are some new recruits like Huntress and Zauriel and Steel, but these are all in addition to the Big Seven. The quick reversal on Superman’s part just rings hollow and makes the ending of the “Rock of Ages” story arc feel forced and contrived. But that’s a minor nitpick because the stories with this newer, bigger, stronger JLA are a whole lot of fun.
First, we get Grant Morrison writing a three-issue arc titled “Prometheus Unbound.” In this narrative, readers get to see a new villain who appears to have thought his take-down of the JLA through completely. Stealing himself aboard the satellite by taking the place of someone who’d won a contest to be a superhero for a day with the JLA (thanks to Morrison being way ahead of the curve with regards to reality television), Prometheus takes down the members of the JLA with impressive efficiency, dispatching Steel, J’onn J’onnz, and Batman with relative ease.
Prometheus puts the rest of the league on their heels, utilizing the fact that a hundred journalists had also been invited to see the JLA Watchtower as leverage against the heroes, but is defeated through the ingenuity of the newer members like Steel and Huntress, as well as the surprise appearance of Catwoman (who stole onto the Watchtower disguised as Cat Grant). The arrival of Catwoman comes out of left field and doesn’t feel fully earned on Morrison’s part, but the way the rest of the team members managed to come together to overcome Prometheus, along with his meltdown due to an overload of information, saves it for me.
This story arc is followed by two two-issue tales from guest writer Mark Waid. Despite this being known as Morrison’s JLA, these are the best stories of the bunch and some of the best from this entire run, to date. Waid offers a story of probability gone wrong followed by an adventure with Adam Strange on an enslaved Rann. Waid employs big ideas as well as Morrison does, but there’s a definite tonal shift. Waid’s stories feel more lively and fantastic with a less serious undercurrent than is found in Morrison’s JLA work. Waid, like Morrison, understands these characters intimately and, though I might question his portrayal of Orion, his offerings in this collection are reminiscent of silver age comics, with the wonder and fun often found in those old stories. And, with the climax of the Adam Strange two-parter, Waid injects some very real emotion through Adam Strange’s sacrifice that really elevates this tale.
After those four issues written by Waid, which also included Superman’s re-integration into his traditional form, Morrison returns to write the final two-part story of this collection, wherein Starro the Conqueror returns to plague the JLA. It’s another typically well-written tale, with big ideas and the heroes’ ability to think overriding their brawn in order to send Starro away. And, despite the tonal shift to a darker, more serious narrative style, the climax is rather humorous, as it basically involves the heroes playing a prank on Starro and its invading force.
I wish there were more superhero comics like this. And I don’t just mean the high level of writing on display, but I also wish there were more two-part stories rather than the often laborious six-part “epics” that fit snugly into a trade paperback. JLA Strength in Numbers includes a single-issue story, a three-part story, and three two-part tales. They race along at a nice clip and both Morrison and Waid, along with Christopher Priest, pack a lot of story – relative to what we’ve become accustomed to in this current comic market – into the pages provided. For my money, I felt like I got far more value from this book, which has five different adventures in it, than I did in the previous volume “Rock of Ages,” which was a single six-issue storyline.
Now, I can’t wait for the next trade.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
For Your Consideration: Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance
By Chris Beckett
FRONT PAGE: We’re all tired of the election cycle. But if you want something a bit lighter in tone, that will prove to be educational, and involve politics too, the newest book from Topshelf is for you. Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance from author Bill Kelter and artist Wayne Shellabarger is a showcase for all of those individuals that have been “honored” with the title Vice President of the United States, and the absurdity that has attended them.
Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance
Written by Bill Kelter
Art by Wayne Shellabarger
296pp. non-fiction hardcover
What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):
There are some people who would call this election year one of the more interesting in recent memory. Though with the internet and 24-hour news channels like CNN and Fox News reporting, analyzing, and dissecting every bit of minutiae, there may be many more who would term this election year overwhelming and tiring. And yet, for all the information disseminated to the public by the pundits, journalists, and talk show hosts, it’s not really known how either of these men will govern the country. Suppositions can be made, but until Senator Obama or Senator McCain accedes to the White House, it’s still a guessing game.
One of the most anticipated decisions for both of these candidates was their choice of running mate. Wading through the rhetoric and slogans is challenging, and with the damage that has been done to our political process by those officials willing to lie, steal, and subvert the system for their own personal gain, it is difficult to trust in what our candidates say. That’s why the choice of a Vice Presidential nominee is so important. It’s a decision with consequences – What will the public vetting by the press bring to light? How will the V.P. nominee handle the televised debate? What do they bring to the ticket? – sometimes devastating a candidacy as Tom Eagleton’s choice as running mate did to George McGovern’s 1972 Presidential bid or placing the right person in the right place at the right time as when FDR dropped Henry Wallace for Harry Truman leading into Roosevelt’s final days as President. Providing insights into how a candidate views the Presidency, it is one of the few aspects of the interminable election season that opens a window into the candidates’ governing style.
And yet, for as much importance attributed to the choice of a Vice Presidential nominee, the office itself really is little more than a glorified place holder. Illuminated by the public spotlight during the final weeks of an election cycle, the Vice President invariably recedes into the background and is rarely heard from again.
That is, until now.
Writer Bill Kelter and illustrator Wayne Shellabarger have created the new book, Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance, which could not come at a better time. Published by Topshelf – known more for graphic novels like From Hell, The Surrogates, and Blankets – this book of non-fiction prose elucidates for a contemporary audience the 46 personages that have warmed the seat in the Vice President’s office along with some notable also-rans.
Highlighting the ignominy of those who have held the office of Vice President, Kelter delves into the stories behind the choosing process while also excavating the pathetic and embarrassing moments that seem, almost without exception, to attend the Vice President. Did you know that our fourth V.P., George Clinton, served under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison from 1805-1812 despite removing himself from public life in 1795 due to “the declining condition of [his] health?” And was it taught in your school that GOP powerbrokers, angered at then-New York governor Teddy Roosevelt’s civil service reforms and corporate tax initiatives, decided to exile him to the one place where he would find it difficult to achieve any legislative reforms – the Vice Presidency. Six months into his term, TR ascended to the highest seat in the land as President William McKinley succumbed to a gunshot wound suffered at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. And we all know of J. Danforth Quayle's spelling miscue with potato(e), but that was only the tip of the iceberg. The number of quotable gaffes that can be attributed to the first President Bush’s running mate are multitude. As a teaser: when speaking about the National Aeronautic and Space Agency, Quayle said, “For NASA, space is still a very high priority” – a fine example of the piercing analytical mind of our 44th Vice President.
Kelter peppers each Vice Presidential profile with anecdotes like these – some unbelievable, others pathetic, but all humorous. Giving over a few pages to each Vice President, it becomes clear early on that these men – at least many of them – are deserving of the black hole of history into which they have fallen. But even with the humorous aspects of this book, the subject matter is such that, in the hands of a different writer, the reading could become as stale as those history books everyone remembers from grade school. Thankfully, Kelter laces his prose with a subtle wit and a biting analysis that will bring a smile to the face of any reader. It’s this comfortable prose coupled with the absurdity of the facts that elevates this book and makes it a must-have for any political junkie.
Wayne Shellabarger ably assists Kelter in his undertaking by creating pen and ink portraits of each of the men who have called the Vice President’s office home. With a style reminiscent of classic comic illustrators, Shellabarger deftly brings these Veeps to life without losing any of his own style. One will easily recognize Teddy Roosevelt or his cousin FDR, and our most recent Vice President’s mug is as pugilistic as ever. But there’s also another side to Shellabarger as he includes smaller, more cartoonish re-creations of events within the lives of many of these Vice Presidents – sometimes literal, but more often symbolic. Whether it be John Tyler playing marbles as he learned he was the new President or the many incidents that accompanied Richard Nixon’s turn as Ike’s V.P. (if his life were fiction, some might call this heavy-handed foreshadowing), these fit nicely with the tone that Kelter is bringing to the prose and adds another dimension to an already enjoyable book.
Despite its 296 pages, Veeps is a very quick read. With engaging material and a wry sense of humor that I enjoy, I found this to be one of the best books I have read in some time, and as far as non-fiction goes, it is high on my personal list of favorites. This is also a book that one can enjoy in small chunks, making it a perfect book to have on one’s nightstand. Retiring early, one could pore through a few decades worth of Veeps, or – if one were settling into bed at the very end of the day – one could still have enough time to read about one or two of these historical “giants.” Regardless, Veeps is a book well worth checking out whether one is a history buff or not.
An Interview with Bill Kelter:
I imagine the creation of Veeps was a long process. What was the inspiration for this book, and what was it about the project that kept you motivated through its creation?
Kelter: As for the motivation, writing it was just plain fun. Granted, it got a little less fun when my marriage started collapsing, but before that, there was a two-month period when my business was plummeting and it became clear that a career change was in the offing. In the meantime, while my wife was at work, I’d transition from my business at about 4:00 PM, pick up a few tall beers from the store, and spend the next several hours researching and writing the book. I was clearing about a chapter a day, four or five days a week.
I finished a huge amount of the book by the spring of 2007, which was good, because living through an imploding marriage is a full-time job, and takes a lot of bounce out of your step. For about eight months, the last thing I felt like doing at the end of every day was sitting down and trying to be eloquent and entertaining.
Wayne was still reeling from his own divorce, so most of our conversations through the end of 2007 tended to tilt heavily towards supporting each other and how to successfully endure the chainsaw-through-the-chest-plate that is marital dissolution. But through it all, we knew we had a book waiting for us when the sun finally came out again. Veeps was our touchstone, and the big steak and a milkshake that was going to wait for us after time did its work and we got through the emotional mop-up.
With so much research to wade through, how did you keep your focus and make decisions on what to include and what to leave out?
Kelter: I’ve had to try, often without success, to adhere to the “less is more” maxim over the years, but writing Veeps I got a little better at using the hatchet where necessary. If something was tangentially funny but not on-point as far as the Vice Presidency was concerned, it wound up on the floor with the peanut shells and cigarette butts. Sometimes I needed some prodding. We had two great passages—one about Teddy Roosevelt’s amazing daughter, Alice, who was probably the most colorful and outspoken woman that Washington has ever seen; and the 1944 Democratic party roll call that was orchestrated by FDR’s adherents within the party and executed by a phantom chant started from the bowels of the convention hall by the Chicago Superintendent of Sewers that helped seal FDR’s fourth nomination. I wanted to keep both but our editor, Robert Venditti, laid down a little tough love and said, “Funny, but off the reservation. Drop ‘em.”
But the blog makes a nice remainders section for things like that.
The subtitle of the book is “Profiles in Insignificance.” Was the book tagged this way from the beginning or a description that became apparent as the research piled up?
Kelter: We started without a subtitle. We didn’t even have the title Veeps at first. But by the time we were about 70% done with the book, “insignificance” seemed to be a relentless, recurring theme throughout the stories of these dozens of pallid men who had held the office. In the back and forth between Wayne and I, and the frequent email and telephone debriefings we held together as the book was starting to grow its fingers and toes, we locked onto “Profiles in Insignificance,” not just as a subtitle, but as a theme that would pervade the book, the site, the blog, and, ultimately, the movie.
How did you and Mr. Shellabarger come together on this project, and what was it about his work that made him the right choice for this book?
Kelter: Wayne and I have been friends since the waning days of the Reagan years. We went to the same high school together (though we missed each other by a year). We met finally at U of O in 1987. We had great creative chemistry from the word go and our senses of humor ran several shades darker than what most people in polite society could generally appreciate (our first project together was a parody of the Peanuts characters as Manson Family members). We dabbled in a few other things through the years, but we got busy with our lives and never saw anything through to fruition. Mainly we just remained great friends and maintained our creative efforts through our correspondence (one of my favorite gifts ever from anyone is a Donner Party Sno-Globe Wayne made for me ten or so years ago).
After a few years fascinating over the dubious character of many of the men the country has chosen through the years to sit one mortal tragedy away from the highest office in the land, I had a drunken epiphany in the bathroom of my rental flat one Saturday morning in 1999. A previous girlfriend had installed a pattern of alternating 10” x 10” inch vinyl tiles on the bathroom floor. The stark white tiles looked like they were begging to be filled with something visual, and at that foggy moment, for reasons I’ve still never come to properly fathom, it occurred to me that an elegant Vice Presidential portrait, with an off-color fact or quote about each, would fit the bill perfectly. The next week I got to work.
Wayne visited a few years later and was really taken with the misguided but sincere obsession I’d devoted to the project, snapped some pictures of the floor, and stowed them away for a few years.
He had already had a book of his concert poster art that he’d published with Top Shelf Production in 1996 (I’m Totally Helpless). He mentioned to his friend and publisher, Brett Warnock, that we were thinking of putting out a deck of VP playing cards. Brett was excited with the concept and suggested a book instead.
It took a few more years of back and forth, but in January 2007, Brett and Chris Staros at Top Shelf greenlit the book, and Wayne and I were to the races on a long-overdue collaboration. And with a publisher behind us, this was a project we were actually going to see through to completion.
Do you have any future projects that you might like to – or would be able to – share with readers?
Kelter: I don’t want to talk too much about the Chester Arthur musical until we’re a little further along.
I will say that we’re not even letting the ink dry on Veeps before we’re rolling up our sleeves and getting back to work. It took us 20 years for our first collaboration to hit the shelves. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
The next to the last of my archived "For Your Consideration" columns - this one was different in that there is no interview included. Moonstone was trying to get the word out about their "new universe" event (in 2008), which included an online voting element where fans could go and vote for the titles within this new supernatural universe they most enjoyed and would like to to see continue as regular series. Moonstone offered me digital copies of the books, and below are my thoughts on the initiative. I don't know if any of these titles continued on past their initial one-shots, but if anyone has information on these, please feel free to include it in the comments.
For Your Consideration EXTRA: MOONSTONE’S Twilight Crusade
By Chris Beckett
FRONT PAGE: Moonstone books is bringing their own supernatural universe to comic shelves, and you can check it out right now. For five consecutive weeks in May and June, five new books debuted under the banner of the “Twilight Crusade,” a war between Heaven and Hell that has raged during the “in-between hours” for millennia but is now spilling out into the daylight. Come in and check out the Twilight Crusade.
The Envoy #1
Story: Gary Phillips, Art: Sergio Mulko
Story: Jeff Limke, Art: Pere Perez
Story: Paul D. Storrie Art: Walter Figueroa, Chad Hunt
Story: Grant Sauve Art: Andy B
Story: Joe Gentile Art: Silvestre Szilagyi
All titles are 32pp. full-color $3.99
What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):
In the early 1960s, Stan Lee, along with a host of legendary artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, created the Marvel universe wherein the heroes and villains from disparate titles closely interacted. Through the years, many companies have followed suit, creating their own superhero universes where multiple titles cross over into one another – a wise marketing strategy that can entice fans to try new titles. But for the most part, and for a variety of reasons, these endeavors have failed.
Often, the major hurdle facing these fledgling superhero universes is that the interaction between characters feels forced. Moonstone’s Twilight Crusade, encompassing the five new books Envoy, Gabriel, Templar, Succubus, and Wolf is hoping to overcome this impediment. Unlike previous attempts, this universe grew organically from the titles themselves, most of which were already in production before the Twilight Crusade banner was branded to them. Each of the books has fantastic or supernatural elements, and by connecting them with a common premise it is hoped these books might get a bit more notice from fans and retailers. So, for the five consecutive weeks from May 21 to June 18, Moonstone debuted the first issue of each of these books, one each week. As an additional promotion to get more readers trying out these books, Moonstone is also holding an online poll asking readers to email in a vote for their favorite title. As a result of these votes and other feedback Moonstone will make a decision on which of these titles will continue. It’s a novel use of the internet to elicit audience feedback while also working to generate interest in these new titles.
The conceit behind the Twilight Crusade is that for millennia Heaven and Hell have been locked in battle here on Earth during the “in-between hours,” unknown to humankind. But now their celestial war has escalated and it’s spilling out into the waking world. But who’s good and who’s evil isn’t as black and white as one might expect.
Envoy introduces readers to a hitman from Hell now working for Heaven. Posing as a chauffeur for one of the hottest music acts in the world, it is revealed that this charismatic singer is actually a demon. In the clash that follows, the demon falls to the envoy and the secret organization fighting the minions of Hell is glimpsed, raising more than a few questions.
Gabriel follows one of the Archangels as she walks the Earth searching for those demons in possession of human hosts. With her sword, she is able to shear the possessor from its host, sending the demon back to Hell. But her power cannot permanently ban these Hellspawn from Earth. And with the increased onslaught, how much longer can she keep them at bay?
In Succubus, the audience is invited into therapy with the book’s protagonist, Sheba. Reckless, uninhibited, she walks the Earth seeking fulfillment while also searching for answers to whom she is and why she is here. Confronted by a cadre of angels seeking an artifact in Sheba’s possession, memories are triggered, but she is unable to convince her attackers that she was once with them. And when they disappear in a blinding flash, Sheba is left alone once more.
Templar showcases the army standing between humanity and Hell. More than human but less than angels, they walk the Earth protecting us as no others can. But things are escalating and the body count rising. How can they hope to forestall what seems to be inevitable?
And in Wolf, readers experience what it means to be possessed by a demon through the eyes of a man who is, Sammy Hart. Worried for his family, he tries to fight the wolf, but it isn’t the place of humans to battle the residents of Hell. This demon exacts a terrible retribution on his host for this audacity, a climax that will leave some readers aghast and may leave Sammy broken beyond reckoning.
The five titles are all entertaining concepts, with the respective creative teams putting a new twist on some age-old ideas. In these introductory issues, the “Twilight Crusade” theme connecting these books is only tangentially mentioned, if at all. And each title is unique enough that there need not be any redundancy in the storytelling, allowing each book to stand on its own while creating the possibility of a richer tapestry within this universe.
Moonstone will utilize a chart or some other graphic on their website to keep track of the voting for these five titles. Understanding the market and the heavy crush of comics arriving in shops every week, Moonstone plans on turning the voting around very quickly so as not to lose any momentum from these debuts. And for fans that might worry about their own favorite title not making the grade, they should still have their voice heard. Moonstone has stated they are committed to these titles and have ideas for extensions of these characters’ stories if their individual titles should not prove viable – an anthology comic, a combination of prose and illustration, straight prose offerings, or short comic stories appearing in other Moonstone comics. It’s a very healthy approach to a challenging market.
The creators of the “Twilight Crusade” titles do a good job of introducing these characters while offering readers more questions than answers with these initial offerings. In my opinion, the best executed issue is Succubus, which opens slowly, transitioning between the therapists’ office and the actual events being related. As the story progresses and tension mounts, the authors increase the pace, puling readers in and giving them a broad picture of this character while leaving many more things untold, giving readers something to look forward to in subsequent issues. That said, all of these new books are enjoyable and if you’re looking for something new with a bit of the fantastic, check out Moonstone’s Twilight Crusade. And don’t forget to vote for your favorites online.
Monday, November 7, 2011
This was the final regular installment of "For Your Consideration" that ran on the Pulse. I did manage to get two more published - through perseverance - but, at that point, much of the skeleton staff had been let go and Jen Contino was basically doing everythingo keep the site going and, apparently, just didn't have time to format and get FYC up on the site. So, with two exception that will be run here later in the week, this will wind up the archiving of my Pulse column.
For Your Consideration: Peter Rogers’s 11th Hour (now from Markosia)
By Chris Beckett
FRONT PAGE: Some of the best advice I’ve read regarding breaking into comics is to work at your craft every day and get your creations into people’s hands – self-publishing if necessary. Peter Rogers heeded such advice, producing two issues of his anthology, 11th Hour, and now it has garnered several Eagle Awards and been picked up for publication by UK publisher AAA/Markosia. Click on in and discover one of the best new anthologies in comics.
Eleventh Hour Volume 1
Edited by Peter Rogers
80 Pages B/W
What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):
Peter Rogers, like many comic fans, wanted to create his own comics. To that end, he wrote stories and found like-minded artists willing to work with him to bring these tales to life. Making contacts at local conventions, while also submitting some of these early attempts to various publications, Rogers learned how to craft short tales using words and pictures. His initial steps were awkward, as most are, but he did not allow this to deter him and continued to submit his creations. After a number of rejections, some of his pieces finally got accepted at smaller publishers. But, always at the eleventh hour, something would go awry – an artist would miss a deadline, a book would fold, or a publisher go out of business – and those stories that had been given a green light now found themselves relegated to comic purgatory. Frustrated by undaunted, Rogers took the advice of comic scribe Geoff Johns, whom he heard speak at the Bristol International Comic Expo, and decided to self-publish these stories. And thus, Peter Rogers’s anthology 11th Hour was created – recently garnering Eagle Award nominations in the category of Favourite Black and White Comicbook – British and Favourite Newcomer Artist and Favourite Artist: Fully-Painted Artwork for artist Azim Akberali, whose work can be found in both of the initial issues of this anthology.
11th Hour has a nice variety of stories with Rogers showcasing his creativity and range with the diverse genres he tackles. Opening the first issue with a vampire tale about the hunt for the last of the original Romanian princes, Rogers – ably assisted by artists Nuno Nubre (pencils) and Ian Sharman (inks) – sets the tone of the book nicely. Leading his audience through the pre-eminent vampire hunter’s pursuit of Lord Jozsef Horvath, prompted by an anonymous tip from Horvath himself, it becomes evident that the ancient Prince, after a thousand years on this Earth, has finally tired of the pain and hunger in his life. Taken into custody, he longs for the death that has eluded him a millennium, but the final page masterfully subverts readers’ expectations with a climax as logical as it is surprising. And with this final flourish, what seemed a typical horror yarn becomes so much more.
The rest of the tales, the bulk of which are written by Rogers, are just as entertaining. Cutting a swathe across genres the rest of the first issue is filled out with an end-of-the-world farce, a supernatural tale set during the Vietnam conflict, a heart-wrenching narrative of one man’s hell, and a preview of Ian Sharman’s and Randy Valiente’s superhero tale of the “Young Gods.” Exhibiting his penchant for intelligent storytelling in the vein of classic anthologies like EC’s line of comics and Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, Rogers manages to provide consistently unexpected outcomes for what often appear, at first glance, to be stories that have been done before. It is a testament to his skill as a writer that Rogers can utilize familiar themes and settings to create stories that are new and original.
The range of art is also impressive. Nubre’s sharper, more angled linework melds perfectly with the initial vampire story, while Azim Akberali’s clean, polished inking adds much to the horror one experiences when reading “Purgatory Blues,” the highlight of the initial issue in my opinion. Likewise Randy Valiente’s pencils for the superhero preview “Young Gods,” whose characters seem to live within speedlines, their actions more dynamic than those of common people meshes well with Ian Sharman’s writing to create an intriguing introduction to these new heroes. It is not an easy thing to work within multiple genres – many writers have difficulty breaking out of the box – but Rogers seems willing and able to forestall any pigeon-holes yet. This facet of his imagination and skill is accentuated by his ability to find artists ideally suited to the various stories he wants to tell within 11th Hour. For entertaining tales from exciting new creators that will make you think, I would recommend you seek out 11th Hour.
An Interview with Peter Rogers:
Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?
Rogers: It took me a long time to realise that writing for comics was something I should be doing. Looking back on things I really wish I’d started a lot sooner, because the fact I left it until my mid twenties is a major regret. I’ll always feel like I’m making up for lost time, and I wish I’d put my love for comics and love for writing together sooner.
I began reading comics when I was very young, starting with Whizzer & Chips (a UK kid’s humour comic) and moving onto Tiger (sports and action anthology - my favourite character being wrestler Johnny Cougar). But it was the Marvel UK reprints that really made me start to get obsessed with the medium. I started picking up Spiderman and when they brought out Secret Wars I was completely blown away. Secret Wars gets a lot of criticism now, but at the time seeing how big and exciting the Marvel Universe was had a real impact on me. I was a Marvel kid from that day on and I was soon picking up a number of their superhero titles. But Secret Wars will always be the book I look back on with the most nostalgic feelings, a lot of other British comic fans do too.
Writing was always a big part of my life as a boy and I had an overwhelming urge to tell stories from as soon as I could pick up a pen. I wrote every single day, short stories about monsters, fake newspaper articles, magazines set in the future, all kinds of things. I remember writing an episode of the A Team once, for some reason I decided that Murdoch should be obsessed with wheat germ.
I did entertain the idea that one day I could work in comics, I think I was about 12 at the time. I didn’t really understand that there was a writer involved and thought that I would have to become an artist. My family bought me “How to draw comics the Marvel Way” and some other art books and I started to try and create my own characters. I think my plan was to send them to Marvel. The only thing I had not taken into account was the fact that I wasn’t actually very good at art. It still baffles me that writing comics never seemed like an option. Especially as writing continued to shape who I was.
Having written short stories, poetry and a few chapters of a novel in my teens, I decided about the time I was in University that I wanted to get into screenwriting. This was about the same time that film had taken over from comics as my favourite entertainment medium (not living near a comic shop didn’t help). I threw myself into screenwriting, reading pretty much every book on the subject and taking some courses (Raindance’s Writing the Hot Script, John Truby’s Story Structure and some production and directing courses). After quite a few aborted attempts (I have a short attention span so tend to flit between projects) I finally completed a Western called “Restitution” but the less said about that the better. I was actually turned down for a Masters Degree in Screenwriting because my work was too genre lead and likely to be popular!
It was in the late 90s that I got back into comics. We were on a beach holiday and I had run out of reading material and was getting progressively more bored. I went to the local shop to pick up a paper or a magazine and stumbled across a fine array of DC and Marvel titles. The first book I read was an issue of the Hulk and suddenly the buzz was back. I bought about 20 books that week and when I got home I spent a small fortune on trade paperbacks to try and find out what I’d missed (the likes of Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns and Preacher). I realised that comics was far more than I remembered and that the medium had generated stories that put the vast majority of movies to shame. A light-bulb came on above my head, I should try writing comics.
I bought a great book called “Writers on Comic Scriptwriting” and some script books and set about writing comics and I have been doing it ever since. At first it was something I was doing as well as screenwriting but in the end I switched my focus totally. I had made some good movie contacts and the pitches I had made to producers had been well received. But I realised my heart was no longer in it, I think you can blame DVD extras for that. The thought of five other writers reworking your script until it bore no resemblance to your original vision made my heart sink. And so did the thought of writing screenplay after screenplay with no guarantee that any of them would ever make it to the screen.
Anyone can make a comic if they want to, regardless of their finances or their day job circumstances. You can’t say the same about movies. Well you can but comics don’t have budget restrictions so you can do anything that you can imagine in the medium. And it’s not as if there is a comics equivalent of the dreaded test screening either. Writing something with a downbeat ending and having to change it to happily ever after to keep the moneymen happy must be soul destroying. I really think that creating comics has to be one of truest forms of creative expression, certainly within mass media. But the thing that has really made me love writing comics has been getting to collaborate with such talented artists. When they take your words and turn them into something far, far better than what was originally on the page there really is no better feeling.
I’m intrigued by the variety of genres showcased in Eleventh Hour. Was this intentional on your part or just a happy coincidence, and how do you market such a diverse anthology?
Rogers: Kind of halfway between the two really I guess. The first issue of Eleventh Hour was very much about getting my own work out there so I didn’t have a plan as such. The first few years writing comics had been a steep learning curve. I was basically learning by my mistakes and taking on board lots of advice from pros I’d met through cons or through friends. It wasn’t until 2004 that I began to have any real confidence in my writing for the medium though. I won the Writer’s Pitching session at the UK’s largest convention and that really made me feel I was ready to get my work in front of people.
I didn’t think I was ready to pitch to the big guns just yet so I focussed on submitting to small independent publishers. Things went pretty well, I had a couple of rejections but I also had a lot of submissions accepted. Despite having my stories picked up I was still unpublished two years later. In a lot of ways that was more frustrating than being turned down. Artists had pulled out, books had been cancelled, editors had gone AWOL and publishers had ceased to exist and I started to feel I would never actually see my work in print.
It was at the Bristol Comic Expo last year, the same place I won the pitch fest, that I started to think seriously about putting the stories out myself. Geoff Johns was on one of the writing panels, and his advice to writers who wanted to “break in” was to self publish. He said that editors were far more likely to read your comic than to read your script, and it made real sense to me. His words really cemented what I should do and from there the initial premise of “Eleventh Hour” was born.
At that time I had no master plan to create a new anthology series, I just had a bunch of stories I wanted to collect. Most of them were written for specific publications that required a certain genre or mood, which is one of the reasons that the book has such diversity. Once Ian Sharman came on board, Orang Utan Comics co-founder, we started to look at Eleventh Hour as a series rather than a one off book and that made a difference.
In terms of marketing I don’t think we need to pigeonhole ourselves in one genre to do it effectively. We very much wanted Eleventh Hour to be a talent showcase, a place to introduce people to the next generation of comic creators. We tend to market the book loosely as a sci-fi, horror and fantasy but our main focus is always the creators. We have handpicked artists from across the globe and I would be much happier if the talent involved was the main draw and not just one genre or defined style.
The general consensus is that anthologies “do not sell.” So, why jump into publishing with an anthology such as Eleventh Hour?
Rogers: I guess it depends how you look at it. I know people talk about anthologies not doing well in terms of numbers but there have been exceptions. A book like “Flight” is an example of an anthology that had made real inroads, mainly in the book market. And in the UK anthologies have always been part of the fabric of the comic scene. If you look back at something like “Warrior”, it was responsible for some groundbreaking stories that have helped shape the medium. 2000AD has managed to keep going despite growing pressures, and there’s no better place for new talent to grow and flourish. One thing “Warrior” and “2000AD” do have in their favour is the fact that most stories are episodes and not actual standalone tales as such.
The fact anthologies “do not sell” never really crossed our mind, mainly because sales was not one of the things that motivated us. It has always been about getting our work in front of people rather than making money. Most of the decisions we made along the way were pretty organic, mainly because we started out as a collective. Essentially we were a group of likeminded creators who wanted to work together and create the best comics we could. We ended up putting the first two issues out ourselves and it worked in our favour. Having an anthology title has given us the flexibility to try new things and the chance to work with a number of very talented artists. It has also proven to be the perfect place to nurture and develop talent.
More than anything it has become our calling card, making people take a lot more notice of our studio work and the other projects we have in the pipeline. In fact a number of our studio members have gone on to work on high profile books as a result of their work in the anthology. Sales have been good through conventions and a selected comic shops but the real measure of success is how much we’ve achieved in just a year. “Eleventh Hour” has been picked up by AAM/Markosia for future issues and it has also been nominated for the Eagle award for “Favourite Black and White Comic – British”.
Alan Moore has said that writing short stories for 2000AD was a great way for him to learn how to write comics. What have you learned from your experience writing these short stories and how will you apply that to your future writings?
Rogers: I love the fact that someone with such an immense talent as Alan Moore still refers to the process and how all writers can improve what they do. We often think of the greats like him purely in terms of their talent, but often forget the work they have put in to hone their craft to such a level. No matter how good you are naturally you always need to have some perspiration to go with the inspiration.
Anyway have I learned from doing short stories? Yes. Writing shorter stories certainly gives you greater discipline and it makes you get to the action quicker definitely. I think my ongoing stuff is getting tauter as a result of writing shorter stories. I naturally lean towards quite a decompressed style, probably because of my screenwriting background and writing shorts keeps that in check. Where I might have taken a few pages to build character or tension I have to do it in a few panels instead in a short and I try and take that into my other projects.
Saying that I think writing “Future Shocks”, the 5 page shorts in “2000AD”, would be even more valuable because of the page restriction. The majority of the shorts I have written in Eleventh Hour did not have a predetermined length. One notable exception is “Brothers in Arms” which was originally written for “End is Nigh – the magazine of the apocalypse”. It had to be 2 pages long, and it had to be written in a certain style and about a particular theme. I was totally out of my comfort zone writing that and it was a long way from my natural style. But I learned a lot working on it, and it has ended up being one of my most talked about stories.
Writing an ongoing title teaches you some invaluable lessons too though, and in some ways there are more restrictions in that format. If you have to write 22 pages per issue, 4 issues per arc with mini cliff-hangers on each page turn that makes you far better at planning your plot and story beats. Writing from another writer’s plot, which I have done a couple of times now, is a very quick way to learn. You don’t have the flexibility you have when creating something from scratch and have to learn what to add and what to take out very quickly.
For aspiring creators, what is the best advice you would give to them as they work to break into comics?
Rogers: I’m not sure I can add anything to what far more established and more successful creators have said in the past. Most of the advice I have been given or that I have read has proven to be right really. I guess I can summarise some of the key things that I think are important for you though.
Don’t show your work too early. This is a mistake a lot of people make and it can totally destroy not only your confidence but also your credibility. I was told this many times and didn’t listen. I sent my first ever story “Darwin” to Andy Diggle and it was nowhere near good enough. I can laugh about it now, but it was a stupid and sizeable mistake.
Learn the craft. You really do need to understand the medium and how to write for it. Simple things like script layout are something you need to get a handle on, and reading other people’s scripts is a great place to start. Get an understanding of story and embrace structure rather than fearing it. And do the background, as tempting as it is just to get writing preparing a full back-story for your characters and universe will prove invaluable.
Make plenty of contacts. Every time you speak to a creator, editor or fan is a networking opportunity, in person or online. One thing people often forget, particularly on forums or by email, is that everything you say and do makes an impression. Be courteous and keen, but not too pushy. When you do meet influential people make the most of it, I have had to learn not to be shy to ensure I don’t miss opportunities. And to not get drawn into online fire fights too!
Treat artists very well indeed. Without them you are just writing scripts not making comics, so look after them. They hold the keys to the kingdom. (Feel free to shoot me for that cliché)
Get your own work out there. If you can’t get published just do it yourself. As long as you have had some editorial or professional feedback then it is not vanity press by any means. And if you don’t “break in”, whatever that means for you, at least you have a comic in your hands and available for others to read.
Give yourself deadlines and set yourself clear objectives. It is easy to end up talking about what you are going to do and still not do it. Easy to let your day job, family life, social life, social networking and console games take up all your time. Setting yourself daily or weekly objectives as well as an end goal will really help you focus and keep your eye on where you are going. This doesn’t sound like fun, but there is nothing worse than regretting not putting the hours in.
Write every day. This is something that everyone tells you and everyone is right! I spent a lot of time reading about writing or taking courses about writing when I could have actually been writing.
My main personal advice would be to find something that helps maintain your motivation. We all have down days especially as writing can be such a solitary thing, so you need a light at the end of your own personal tunnel. I think about how I will be remembered after I’m gone (I refer to it as my funeral montage), it’s a bit morbid but it definitely ensures I put enough effort into it. J. Michael Straczynski put it far better than I can though.
“ Like everyone else, I am going to die.
But the words - the words live on for
as long as there are readers to see them,
audiences to hear them. It is immortality by proxy.
It is not really a bad deal, all things considered.”
What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell readers about?
Rogers: Like I said earlier I have a short attention span so I tend to have quite a few projects on the go at once. I’ve just finished writing an 8 page preview comic to promote a new British movie “Fight Back” which was an interested change. I am working on an ongoing series and three mini series at the moment as well as more short stories for future issues of “Eleventh Hour”.
The ongoing series is “The Intergalactic Adventures of Slam Ridley” which I am writing from a plot by Ian Sharman. It is essentially a space opera and if you like Firefly and Star Wars this should be right up your street. It centres around the titular hero Slam Ridley, who is a pilot and trader. He travels the galaxy with his robotic sidekick Dan making money doing some rather shady deals. Slam doesn’t want to get involved in the political and military situation that is going on around him, but suffice to say he is soon drawn into it.
Writing Slam has been a real change for me, because the tone is much lighter than the work people have seen from me already. It does have some real world parallels but essentially it is a pulp adventure. And the relationship between Slam and Dan draws on my love of buddy movies and the work of screenwriter Shane Black. I have written the first four issues that make up the first story arc and Welsh artist Simon Wyatt is hard at work inking his own pencils at the moment. We hope to have the book out later this year.
“5th Outlaw” is a 4 issue mini series that I am working on which is essentially a modern day Western. I would describe it as Monk meets The Rock meets Point Blank directed by Robert Rodriguez. The two main characters are Nathan Campbell an FBI agent with obsessive tendencies and Jesus San Vitores an immortal Mexican outlaw who is hell bent on revenge. The first 8 pages are about to be lettered ready to submit to potential publishers with pencils and inks by JC Grande and colours by Megan E.Cittadino.
I am also working on a superheroine mini series that started life as part of a recent competition run by Shadowline. I didn’t make the finals but once I’d already written a comprehensive character bible and I knew I had to get the story out there. I have three working titles for it at the moment and a shortlist of potential artists. I’ve plotted the mini series and broken down the pages into story beats, and I’m part way into writing issue 2. I am really excited about this and I think it could be the most mainstream and fun book I’ve written.
The third mini series is very much in the early stages of development and it is a real diversion for me. It’s an all ages story called “My Monster Book” and it is about a small boy with an incredible imagination.
Once these are all done I have lots more up my sleeve that I want to get moving, including a teenage Viking story and robot hunter team book. For regular updates on each of the titles people should visit www.orangutancomics.co.uk.