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Anthony Mathenia has 14 articles published.

Mad Science! Interview With Writer Oliver Mertz on his Sci-Fi, Horror Comic

in Comics by
First Law of Mad Science vol 1 Cover

Oliver Mertz, is the DC based co-creator of the First Law of Mad Science. The hit indie comic couples chilling horror with inventive speculative fiction to create a world full of compelling characters and big ideas.

In the story, super-scientist George Baker rocks the world with his newest invention; cheap retinal eye implants called “cyber-eyes”. But as the technology runs amuck, George and his family race to solve the problem before a global pandemonium ensues. The journey launches them into ancient civilizations, other-dimensions, and subterranean cities where they face robots, cults, monsters, and more. It’s a helluva ride.

Mertz and crew have a current Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of a 164-page trade paperback compilation along with a new 68-page anthology. I had a chance to speak with the Mad Science writer about the work and his comic writing.


Mad Science co-writers, Oliver Mertz and Mike Isenberg rock out in lab coats.
Mad Science co-writers, Oliver Mertz and Mike Isenberg rock out in lab coats at a comic con.

So how long have you been making Comics?

 Mike [Isenberg] and I first started writing First Law of Mad Science at the end of 2008. We wrote for about a year and half before we even approached an artist. It was our first comic and we had a lot to learn about writing before we felt we had anything worth anyone’s time. We started working with [artist] Daniel Lapham in 2010 and have been self-publishing ever since.

One of the biggest obstacles for new comic writers is finding that perfect artist pairing. How did you hook up with Daniel?

You’re right. If you don’t find someone to collaborate with who wants to make the same kind of art as you, it can be pretty clear on the page. Mike and I found Daniel online, on Digital Webbing. We put out a post saying that we were looking for an artist and asked for samples. Of all of the artists that replied, Daniel was the best. It was clear that he came from the same place as us creatively and that he had the same influences. It’s also fitting that we met Daniel online being that Mike and I write over Skype. We’re completely a product of the digital age!

A page from First Law of Mad Science illustrated by  Daniel Lapham.
A page from First Law of Mad Science illustrated by Daniel Lapham.

Most comics are written by one person. What’s your and Mike Isenberg’s writing process like? Do you ever bump heads?

Mike and I both have our strengths and weaknesses. I love to write long, natural sounding dialogue while Mike likes to cut it down to the bare minimum. It’s fun to brainstorm and cobble together a rough outline. Then, I’ll flesh out the script. After that, Mike takes an editing pass. We go back and forth like this until we both feel like we’ve got something. It’s also nice to have someone to call you on something if it’s not working. Sometimes I can get caught up in an idea, but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t make the cut. Really, brutal honesty is the only way we can create something worth a reader’s time.

What are some of your influences as a writer and comic creator?

Garth Ennis. Preacher rocked me when I was younger and that impression has stayed with me. Warren Ellis as well. Transmetropolitan is an all-time favorite. And more recently, I’ve been reading the trades of Mind Mgmt by Matt Kindt. That book is just so darn elegant.

Your current Kickstarter campaign builds on two previous successes. Could you describe your experience with crowdfunding?

It’s amazing! We launched issue one of First Law of Mad Science on Kickstarter back in 2010. Kickstarter was still pretty new and not everyone was familiar with crowdfunding at that point. Essentially, we went online and presented ourselves. We said, we’d like to make a comic and we need your help. And shockingly enough, people supported us.

It’s not hyperbole when I say that it changed my life. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for that support. From there we started going to cons, meeting other creators, and becoming a part of the small-press community. I love being a part of that community. Kickstarter allowed us an entry point into the world of comics. It removed a financial barrier that indie creators didn’t used to be able to get past.

Even with things like crowdfunding, independent comic creating is often a labor of love. Is that true in your case?

 It really is a labor of love. We put a lot of time, energy, and our own money into creating First Law of Mad Science. It’s because, for us, there is no other option. We love telling this story and want to share it with readers. We do things like Kickstarter to help offset some of our up front costs, but we’re committed to making this comic no matter what. I love making comics and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

What obstacles do you face as an independent comic creator?

There are loads of obstacles. Money is a huge one. It costs a lot to produce comics, especially if you’re a writer and not an artist. We pay full-page rates to all of the artists we work with. They are doing the hard work of bringing the story to life, so they need to be paid, even when we, the writers, are not. But that means we can only produce so much given our funds.

The other big obstacle is getting our book out there. It’s hard to get noticed when bigger publishers already have everyone’s attention. I’ve found the best thing to do is to continue to make the best book possible. It takes a while but little by little, people notice and pick up on quality.

If you could write for any character, real, fictional, living or dead, who would it be?

I’d love to continue writing our characters! I’ve never really seriously thought about writing someone else’s characters. It would be a nice challenge to take on an established character but what I really like is getting to know the characters that we create. It’s incredibly satisfying to build a three-dimensional character. It’s even more satisfying to see how that character behaves in your story. I suppose this urge comes from having studied behavioral psychology at university.

R.A.I.Ch.E.L., one of the Mad Science characters, on a T-Shirt available as a Kickstarter perk.
R.A.I.Ch.E.L., one of the Mad Science characters, on a T-Shirt available as a Kickstarter perk.

Can you give an example of how your behavioral psychology education has informed the characters in your book?

 I’m really interested in the difference between how people see themselves and how others see them. For R.A.I.Ch.E.L., the robotic daughter of super-scientist George Baker, she is at odds with the world. The world is completely accepting of her as a marvel of science. Furthermore, they see her as a novelty. She, however, is incredibly powerful, smart, and strong. She’d like to be recognized for it, feared even. It’s that disconnect between how she sees herself and how others see her that makes for interesting drama.

Ultimately what can indie comic fans expect from First Law of Mad Science?

A good read. A satisfying mystery. A globe-trotting adventure. We tried to create something that we would like to read. So if you like sci-fi comics and enjoy horror comics, you’ll like First Law of Mad Science.

To support Oliver and company, as well as grab a copy of First Law of Mad Science volume 1, “Work Until Your Family Is Sad”, check out the new Kickstarter campaign. The team can found on twitter at @FirstLawComic, online at, and in person at the Boston Comic Con, Baltimore Comic Con, and New York Comic Con later this year.

REVIEW Nailbiter Volume 1: Small Town Slasher Serial Killers

in Comics by

Buckaroo Oregon breeds serial killers like restoration London bred rats. It’s a small town where everybody knows everybody … and everybody seems to know a serial killer. The town has made its stained mark with sixteen, popularly referred to as the Buckaroo Butchers, and the most famous of the blood-soaked bunch is Edward Charles Warren aka Nailbiter.

The story opens with a SWAT team beating down the door of a rundown house. Inside sits the titular killer amid a macabre display of broken bodies. A twisted, satisfied smile marks his blood stained lips as he gnaws on the finger of his latest victim. But as quickly as he is nabbed, Warren beats a murder conviction and returns to small-town life.

Why does Buckaroo produce so many serial killers? And what role does the Nailbiter play in it all?  Elliott Carroll thinks he’s figured it out. But when the FBI agent goes missing, it’s up to Nicholas Finch to pick up the trail. As an Army investigator his specialty is torture and interrogation. And as the killing starts again, Finch seems like the perfect guy to choke out the truth.

That’s the setup in Joshua Williamson’s Nailbiter volume 1: There Will Be Blood. Williamson does a killer job plotting a grim story full of interesting twists and turns. He scatters numerous red herrings along the blood stained path of the latest butcher. The story moves at a neck breaking pace and just when you think the killer has been discovered, Williamson rips off the mask and the twisted tale goes even deeper into the grave.

Throughout, the grisly story is balanced by a sense of fun and inventiveness. The reader is introduced to some of the past butchers like the Book Burner, a bullied child who burned down libraries with the people still inside. Williamson also plays with the genre, with a few funny references to other serial killer franchises, like Silence of the Lambs. And like Hannibal Lector, William’s Nailbiter killer is the perfect mix of creepy and charismatic, if not a Chianti drinker.

Writer Joshua Williamson introduces the Book Burner, one of Buckaroos butchers.
Writer Joshua Williamson introduces the Book Burner, one of Buckaroo’s butchers, as Adam Guzowski cranks up the heat with atmospheric coloring.

The Nailbiter creative team comes together with the swagger of a jazz group, musically creating tension and tone. Dialogue, art, color, and sound all play off each other without missing a note in between. The art by Mike Henderson, flows nicely, especially in the big action set pieces. His framing is evocative and spooky, with masked killers appearing and disappearing from panels like ghosts. Meanwhile Adam Guzowski’s colors capture the heat of burning buildings, the eery mists of the Oregon forests, and the spine-tingling darkness of a graveyard at night.

One of the more effective set pieces takes place in a basement morgue with a dim light on the fritz. The panels alternate between dark and light, providing tension as Finch and local sheriff Sharon Crane, his partner in the investigation, are oblivious to a masked assailant popping in and out of the looming darkness.

Investigators Finch and Crane deal with a corpse in a basement with a flickering light.
Investigators Finch and Crane deal with a corpse in a basement with a flickering light.

And what would a horror story be without those sounds that send a shiver down the spine? John J. Hill’s lettering is one of the best surprises. In many comic books the sound effects come across as an afterthought once the art is turned in. Hill, who also designed the book, keeps the creaks, snaps, and pops woven seamlessly throughout. One of the best examples is on the first page as the SWAT team pounds down the door of Warren’s slaughter shack. It was a rare occasion where reading is enough to leave the boot stomps echoing in the reader’s ears.

Designer John J. Hills kicks down the door with the brilliant use of comic sound effects.
Designer John J. Hills kicks down the door with the brilliant use of comic sound effects.

The first volume comes to a satisfying conclusion, pulling back the curtain just enough to tease who might be behind the latest string of serial killings in Buckaroo. But of course it could be another one of Williamson’s skillful sleight of hands. You get a sense that he’s building toward something, but if the comic writer knows, his mouth is stitched shut. The reader will just have to continue the series, but with a ride this sweet and scary, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Like many Image trade paperbacks, the first volume of Nailbiter: There Will Be Blood can be picked up for a bargain price of under ten bucks. There is also a collected second volume as well as ongoing monthly single issues for readers that can’t wait for the latest serving of a good gore splattered mystery.

Spooky Sequel to Out of the Blue Anthology Accepting Submissons

in Comics by

Stache, a small-press comic publisher, announced a call for short works for a new horror-themed comic collection. Planned for Halloween, the anthology will be a spooky sequel to 2014’s Out of the Blue. Marta Tanrikulu, Corey Fryia and Marcus Muller are returning as editors with Claire Connelly (The Long Year, Black Eyes) providing cover art.

“The first volume collected some very fine stories under an umbrella theme of strangeness. Having an anthology championed by a supportive small publisher allowed the contributors to have their work made available both through online marketplaces digitally and in print, as well as directly to fans at conventions and local comics shops. I’m excited to be involved again in putting together a sequel that will entrance people like me who enjoy scares and surprises, especially around Hallowe’en,” said Tanrikulu.

A page from Deliveries from the first Out of the Blue

As with the first volume, royalties will benefit The Comic Book Project, a child literacy initiative.­­ “Stache’s mission is to get people to experience the fun and personal fulfillment that comes from making comics,” said the project manager for Stache. “With ‘Out of the Blue’ we are excited to team up with The Comic Book Project and inspire the next generation of comic creators.”

A page from Demoniac, one of the shorts in the original Out of the Blue.
A page from Demoniac, one of the shorts in the original Out of the Blue.

In addition to having a scary slant, strange stories with twist endings will be favored. Preference will be given to works with no previous publication, followed by those with very limited or digital-only publication, or published in a language other than English. Submissions should be complete and in full color or tones. (Black and white comics will be considered only as a stylistic choice deemed essential to the story.) Submissions of finished short comics will be accepted from July 10 through July 31.

To submit, email a low-resolution version as an attachment or secure link to the editor at If the work was previously published or accepted for publication, please state where. A short biography (~50 words) for each creator is also requested with each submission. A copy of the completed book will be provided to the creators.

The original Out of the Blue may be purchased from Amazon or directly from the publisher. A digital copy may be downloaded from Drive Thru Comics.


Heavy Metal Cartoonist Launches Vampire Circus Fiction Serial

in Pop Culture by
Vampire Circus by Rod Kierkegaard Jr Cover

Rod Kierkegaard Jr. is an American author and the creator of Rock Opera, a long-running comic strip appearing in Heavy Metal magazine. I spoke to him about his cartooning history while living in Paris, his love of television, and his new serialized fiction work The Vampire Circus.

In the new Amazon serial an old west pinkerton travels to 1920’s Europe to track down a traveling circus of vampires. The hunt leads to dark corners and into the lives of former circus performers and twin-sisters, Coco and Zuzu, now the toast of the Parisian jazz scene.

You’re currently writing fiction, but many people are familiar with you from Rock Opera. How long have you been writing fiction?

Actually, my comics began as illustrations to short stories that I couldn’t get published. Publishers hated the stories but loved the pictures. Rock Opera actually began as the story of a black man from another planet who had his face replaced by a mask after crash-landing on earth. He remained black through his years in an underground newspaper (inspiring the film “Brother From Another Planet”), but my publishers wanted him to turn white when he was picked up by Heavy Metal.

So were comics something you fell into then, or did you have a previous interest in cartooning?

Oh, I was terrifically excited and inspired by Metal Hurlant in the mid-70s. I tried to go to work for them several times — tried at Charlie Hebdo, too, but they didn’t like my style. Luckily other French magazines did.

Were you living in Paris at the time?

When Heavy Metal picked up Rock Opera I had a job that I could do out of suitcase. My wife and I were living on a beach in Key West in 1981. We had to move, so for fun we both made a list of places to move to. Then we gave each a number. Paris scored highest. So we moved there with four suitcases, a cat, and $2,000.

Rock Opera, written and illustrated by Rod Kierkegaard Jr
Rock Opera, written and illustrated by Rod Kierkegaard Jr

As a cartoonist, what was Paris like in the early 1980’s?

In Paris in the 80’s, being a cartoonist was like being a rock star. Several of my fellow cartoonists at Albin Michel actually had entourages. It was a big thrill for me to meet several of the famous ones; I never got to meet Moebius, but I did become friends with Liberatore.

So did you indulge in the rock and roll lifestyle while in Paris?

Hell no. I was married and the whole time I was cartooning, I was also writing novels. I must have a dozen in the closet from that time. The secret to longevity as a writer or cartoonist is to marry young and stay married. It’s a miserable way of life, and you need someone to look after you. On insurance actuarial tables, writers have the shortest lifespans, followed by stuntmen and rock musicians.

Scene from South Park Heavy Metal spoof 'Major Boobage'
Scene from South Park Heavy Metal spoof ‘Major Boobage’

When they hear Heavy Metal magazine, I think many readers may think of fantasy comics with scantily clad barbarian women. Rock Opera has a real literary feeling, especially in its treatment of the popular culture of the day. Was this a conscious decision on your part?

Rock Opera began as post-modern short stories inspired by Calvino and J G Ballard. When it was picked up by HM I was suddenly put under pressure to make it popular–and there was plenty of incentive. I was suddenly making the modern equivalent of $15k a year. So I altered the story to mock social themes and tried to work in homages to PKD and Lem. Heavy Metal wanted to kill it, but it kept MRing at or near the top of their features in popularity. They were paying me a fortune. They could get much cheaper material from Spanish and Filipino artists by then. The French were starting to do the same. Somehow [Rock Opera] lasted seven years or so, but got sillier and sillier.

Did Paris other places you lived inspire your writing?

I’ve lived in a lot of places — Paris, London, Stockholm, New York — and I love putting them in books. But a large percentage of my novels are set in LA, where I’ve never set foot.

Why does Los Angeles appeal to you?

Any American who watches TV feels like he’s spent half his life in LA.

What are your thoughts on television?

Oh, I love TV. To me it’s a distinct art form, like literature. I only watch an hour a night, but I love to sample shows from all over the world. Right now, I’m on an Iceland kick.

What’s the best foreign program I’ve never heard of?

Krøniken. I love it particularly because I spent a lot of time in Copenhagen beginning in 1960. It’s sort of the Mad Men of Denmark.

Rod Kierkegaard Jr, self-portrait
Rod Kierkegaard Jr, self-portrait

Your published work has a wide variety of interesting characters and situations, often with a bit of dark or twisted edge. How would you characterize your writing?

Honestly, I don’t know if there are any common themes. To me writing is like speaking in tongues–when I begin a book I usually have no idea what it’s about until a narrative voice seizes me. I don’t do plot outlines or anything. It’s like automatic writing. I guess for me, it’s always automatic; if it isn’t, I can’t do it.

How did your new serial Vampire Circus come to life?

A few years ago, I was feeling burnt out. My publisher was encouraging me to try writing “erotica”, so I spent a couple of months writing a lurid pornographic epic. It sucked, like…hugely. A giant waste of time. But I kept returning to it in my spare time, trying to improve it–and then it occurred to me that it would be far more interesting if it was a vampire story. I also noticed how much it mirrored the lives of Colette and Josephine Baker, so I went back and researched them at great length, then added a character based on Charlie Siringo, the great cowboy detective.

There is no shortage of books with vampires on the market. What sets Vampire Circus apart?

In this series, vampirism is the result of a genetic mutation of syphilis. Bot Colette and Baker had syphilis, incidentally, along with about 40% of 1920s Paris.

Vampire Circus is a serialized work. For readers that enjoy the first installment what are the plans for the future of the series?

I wrote over 600,000 words of it. So there are already about six to eight novels in the can. There was so much of it that my publisher saw it as a fun way to utilize Amazon’s new serializing program. Also, I had written it as a classic serial, basing it a bit on Fantômas [a popular serial killer in French crime fiction in the late 1880’s.]

Vampire Circus may be purchased through Amazon. Rod Kierkegaard Jr. can be found online on Facebook and Twitter at @RodKierkegaard.



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