Sometimes an image can spark all kinds of ideas and inspiration. Boaz Lavie and Hanuka brothers used a breathtaking and iconic photo as inspiration to collaborate on a riveting graphic novel that explored the imagery they felt while viewing the photograph. The Divine graphic novel is the result of that and The Gr1nd got with Boaz to have a chat about his foray into the comics industry, working with the brothers, the making of the comic and its publication.
The photograph you based the story on is iconic, what about it made you want to do a graphic novel?
Tomer saw the photo in 2007 and went on to read anything he could about the real story behind it. Both Asaf and Tomer were deeply affected by their story – by the facts they supposedly had super powers, that they were twins, and that their childhood was so radically different than our own. In 2009 I joined the project as its writer and we started working on it together, with the plan of making a graphic novel, inspired by the real story.
A lot of the images are surreal and very impressionistic did you come up with the concept for the story or did the art come first? Explain.
It was a combination. Some early concept art was created, mainly by Tomer, before any writing was done, and it served as inspiration as well. Most of it had to do with the twins themselves, and their surrealistic environment. Once the story was more developed, there were many ideas in it that called for more fresh concepts and art, so it was actually a dialogue between the art and the writing.
Is this a stand alone graphic novel or is therefore to come?
It was created as a standalone graphic novel. One complete story.
What was it like working with not one but two artists who are brothers?
We had known each other for more than 20 years. We’ve actually met during our army service. So our relationship is very rich and complicated as friends, even without doing such a huge project together. Our work together was very organic, in this sense. There were many ups and downs, and many fights actually, but all along we kept going at it as a group of friends who’re doing something they love, together. A dream project, if you will.
How did you come up with the storyline of the bad American and the good one?
Asaf had taught me that when illustrating comics, it’s very important to be able to define your characters very quickly, in simple artistic terms. People should be able to recognize them easily so many times during the story, you can’t get too tricky about it. So in creating the characters in the story, I kind of took the same approach. I think there’s much more into both of them than just the “bad guy” and “good guy”, but they do represent something deeper about American culture and its different aspects.
Where did the idea for the giant soldiers from the figurines come from?
Tomer had researched South East Asian culture and we came upon similar images of local gods. That was the inspiration.
Also the brothers power where did the inspiration for that come from?
There’s a one big theme in the book and it is “birth”. There’s a spoiler here, but the brothers’ power is their ability to “get things out of things” – trees out of the ground, internal organs out a person’s body, etc. It’s basically playing around with the same theme, only on a different field.
You mixed an iconic image and a real story with fantasy and fiction to come up with a fantastical tale, explain the creative process?
We treated the iconic image as an inspiration. When I joined the project in 2009 I wanted all of us to agree that we’re going to build something that is 100% fiction. It’s not going to be about the real twins, or their story, not even about a real place. I’ve invented this country, Quanlom, in order to distance ourselves from reality. So there’s a mix here of real historical background, and wild imagination. The real story was just a starting point, for us.
Under the pipes and wooden floor beams sits an enormous sleek contemporary black glass table holding a 32 inch flatscreen TV, a Cintiq Wacom tablet, a Mac, and a large printer. The television has an Anime show paused on it, the distraction became too great. English subtitles demand too much attention. Daft Punk is now playing on the Mac.
The concrete walls are dressed up with framed Savage Wolverine and The Ultimates pages drawn by Joe Madureira. Former comic convention ‘swag bags’ and Artist Alley badges hang from the overhead pipes like moss on a Louisiana tree.
To the immediate right of the large table is a contemporary clear glass drawing table. In the light of a drawing lamp, a man sitting on a comparatively smaller leather deck chair is hunched over the desk.
“I’m in a Dungeon.” laughs Joe Wills.
Joe Wills is a particularly cheery, energetic young man. Joe’s warm personality and constant smile livens up the cool, damp basement. Joe is a St. Louis comic book illustrator and is a member of the artist collective, The Illustrata.
Comics have been a part of Joe’s life for years, ever since he picked up a copy of Spawn #16 drawn by Marc Silvestri. “I was hooked.” he says.
Joe got into illustrating his own comics with the St. Louis based anthology publisher, Ink & Drink with their anthology titled ‘Hammered.’ He is now a regular contributing artist to each new anthology.
In a perfect world, Joe would be already be illustrating an X-Men or Thor comic book. Now, he’s stretching his artistic chops by adapting bold superhero style to Seth Ferranti’s comic Supreme Team.
“I was approached at [Planet Comicon in Kansas City, MO] actually. I was introduced to Seth by [Stache’s] Jordan Williams, and the rest is Supreme Team history!” Joe laughs. “I was a little intimidated, to be honest. I was like, ‘wait what now? Dude is fresh out [of prison]?!’ But after talking to him, you can hear how much passion he has for the project and how much he wants this to be successful. It’s hard not to admire that.”
Check out this video of Joe Wills talking about the Supreme Team project.
Seth Ferranti spent 21 years in the Federal Prison system serving time for a first-time non-violent drug offense, so the true-crime writer has lived in a world that can be compared to the Supreme Team comic on some levels.
Joe, on the other hand, isn’t part of that world. “I’ve never been in situation even remotely like what [the characters in Supreme Team] have been through,” he explains. “I am fascinated by some of their exploits and I see where the style and attitudes of some of the hip-hop artists of the early 80’s and 90’s came from.”
Even though it’s a totally different world than he is a part of, Joe understands that life. “It makes sense. I mean if you grew up in a poverty stricken area and saw people getting prosperous while doing what they pleased, why wouldn’t you emulate that? I get it. I don’t agree, but I get it.”
The subject matter of Supreme Team is gritty and hard edged. It captures the real life vibe of living in the streets and dealing with real crime. It’s not for everyone. But, Joe thinks that this explicitness is something that makes Supreme Team stand out. “I think there aren’t many comics out there tackling this subject, and it’s a story that has been patiently waiting to be told.” He continues, “Hip-hop culture has been emulated so much that it’s time that people really know where the style, the swag, and the feel originated from. I mean, hip-hop culture has been adopted into the mainstream and has been integrated, some would say appropriated, but that’s a whole other issue/conversation, but I digress.”
Joe has been an essential part of the Supreme Team creative team right from the beginning. Joe’s style (who is inspired by greats such as Stuart Immonen, Kenneth Rocafort, and Olivier Coipel) is the visual cornerstone of the comic. Some may argue that Seth Ferranti’s dialogue is what captures the essence of the era, but Joe’s art is just as important to create the mood and the visual appeal. Joe draws inspiration from the book “A Time Before Crack” by Jamel Shabazz, “And a TON of Pinterest” Joe adds. “My artistic focus in this project is to get it as accurate as possible.”
Joe feels Supreme Team is something different than what you would normally find on the comic book rack on New Comics Wednesday at your local comic shop because it’s a true crime comic about a previously uncaptured subject. “The genre is kind of a new frontier, I think. I haven’t really seen anything like Supreme Team on the shelves. I hope [people] love it!” Joe laughs. “I mean, I hope they come away a little more informed on the underside of the origins of hip-hop. I also hope they want more!”
Supreme Team has a campaign running on Kickstarter throughout the month of August. You can preorder your copy of Supreme Team #1, as well as exclusive Supreme Team swag, original artwork by Joe, and the Limited Edition Kickstarter-only Hardcover. Supreme Team is written by Seth Ferranti, illustrated by Joe Wills, and produced by Anthony Mathenia.
This is the most riveting and real true comic coming out today. Gritty and raw, writer Seth Ferranti brings you the tale of Queens most infamous gangsters who not only took the drug world by storm they influenced and supported the rapper in the early day and hip-hop was emerging as a cultural art form. See how the drug dealers and hip-hop artists juxtaposed the streets in a vicious attempt to come up by any means necessary in the rap game, crack game. But when the bodies start dropping the rappers don’t want to play. Because when you bring gangsters into it then it always gets too real, too fast. This is the Supreme Team’s story. Drawn by the amazing Joe Wills and colored by the incomparable Anthony Mathenia. This book needs your pledge on kickstarter now. Thanks.
You hear “underground comics,” you think The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Tijuana Bibles, or Shojan porn starring interdimensional penis monsters. Nothing you’ll see listed in a Tokyo Pop brochure, or easily passed on a magazine rack at your local info shop. Sometimes you find underground comics with a real message.
The problem of their inherent obscurity is also their appeal. Discovering a ‘good’ one is more rewarding. In this case, discovering a new publisher. The Real Cost Of Prisons Project delivers several fantastic comics. Prisoner of the Drug War and Prison Town: Paying The Price dish scintillating social critique wrapped in ink-blot barbed wire. They are sharply traced outside the lines of other dryly recited public awareness announcements.
Each comic thrills like a dark cell-block on your fist night in jail.
Mainstream comics lose their shit compared to Prisoners Of A Hard Life: Women and Their Children. Full of transactional sex workers, histories of child abuse and “indifference to human life” depicted in gritty details that would make Paul Pope cry plagiarism.
Artist Susan Willmarth is that good. What else have you done lately, Willmarth? How far in the underground must avid readers search to find thee?
The Real Cost of Prisons Project follows a long line of underground art zines and comic books. They just aren’t famous like the “underground-breakers,” including R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman and Bill Griffith, who have become accepted as mainstream artists, entertainers and even pundits.
Crumb is the subject of a major documentary and various books of criticism; Spiegelman is a Pulitzer Prize winner, for Maus, and was a contributor to The New Yorker; Griffith has produced a long-running syndicated comic, “Zippy,” and all have collectively published several popular monographs.
So why are other underground gems not out in the public?
It isn’t for a lack of organization. Community projects enthrall the volunteers at The Real Cost of Prisons Project, whose mission is to “bring together prison/justice policy activists with political economists to create workshops and materials which explore both the immediate and long term costs of mass incarceration on the individual, her/his family, community and nation.” They use their comics as an educational and fundraising tool. They follow suit with trendy “anarchist zines,” like Slingshot, printed by Berkeley College Press. Both give free copies to prisoners upon request. Both are producing good stuff. Why have they eluded the mainstream?
Part of the problem is perception.
As Robert Williams, founder of Juxtapoz, said, “The worst thing we could do is throw in comic books.” To him, and many cultural authorities, comics still carry the stigma of low-brow. Williams summed it up, “If you show sequential panels, all of a sudden your magazine becomes a ‘funny book.'” Art magazines like Juxtapoz, Art in America, and Artforum are trying to bring back representational art to the American forefront.
Williams suggests that comics are not a part of that revival. “The story is more important the picture itself. So we leave that job to comics’ publishers.”
Small niche presses and independent publishers have risen to the challenge of saluting that stigma with a stiff middle finger. Comics have played a serious role in every significant social event. From “The Yellow Kid” tamping down national fervor during the lead up to Americans first colonial adventure in the Spanish American War in Cuba and the Philippines, to cutting edge web-comics depicting earth shattering tales of the Iraq War, such as David Axe and Steve Olexa’s March 2003, covering an embeds hairy trip during the Iraq elections, or Sand by Mark Chadbourne and Nathan Massengill, about the haunting after fatal friendly fire in a sand storm.
Literary sequential art runs up and down the spectrum of timeless themes with Olympian endurance. It is “Art” indeed. Screw cultural authorities.
The Real Cost Of Prisons Project’s writers Ellen Miller-Mack, Susan Willmarth, and Lois Ahrens have worked hard to adjust the role of underground comics to fit a scary issue. Prison reform. The art is top notch, matching the scale of nightmarish reality for millions of Americans behind bars. Urban and grim you’d expect the same radical primitive neoliberalism or anarchist flaws as other activist-art, but surprises abound with graphic nuance that would arch Will Eisner’s brow.
It’s rare. Seek it out. Savor it.
If you are a fan of raw noir inking, stunning graphics and literary comics, then The Real Cost Of Prisons Project has something you need to read. They serve as landmarks for art from the gutter. Richer for its beginnings.
The Real Cost Of Prisons Project, www.realcostofprisons.org, firstname.lastname@example.org
Off parole and house arrest, Greg McKinney is glad he still has his hair. He plans on attending next year’s San Diego Comic-Con International, the major convention of professionals and exhibitors, and may swing by the Alternative Press Expo, a large gathering of independent, self-publishing and alternative comic creators.
“I guess I’ll get some models from an escort service to help sell comics,” McKinney’s gravelly voice declares over the phone. “You gotta find the right ones. It’s all about fun.” He chuckled.
The idea is to dress-up those escorts in skintight outfits like those popularized by his characters. Namely, Barberetta, a crime noir graphic novel about a blond bombshell/gun for hire who gets mixed up with the mob and goes Denzel Washington on their ass. Press releases, interviews, and reviews have appeared on SB WIRE service, Pacific Book Review, and have been mentioned on Prison Law Blog. But marketing the book has been a challenge while on parole. “I work two shifts at a warehouse, managing catalogs and shipping and delivery. I’m finally making more than $10 an hour.” He explains. “Now I can finally do what I want without a PO breathing down my neck.” But finding time to finish his next two graphic novels, which were illustrated and inked before he left prison, is going to require all of his dedication.
McKinney’s work has a unique angle. For Barberetta he says, “The MOB has been the subject of many great narratives, but the authors are simply recycling and rewriting the concepts. Therefore my main goal was to hit readers in the face with something totally different.”
Born in Ft. Worth, where he lives today, he relocated to Fort Walton Beach, Florida and began selling drugs. He was good at it. When federal agents closed the net, McKinney was labeled the Pot-Kingpin of Northwest Florida. So he has some insight into the way things really work in the underworld. He’s taking a new direction with his life and wants to be successful in comics, but it is long hard march to the top.
Readers have accepted him. Angie Simplains was impressed in her Amazon review: “Great Job. It was a fun read with nice graphics! Keep it up :)”. Some first-time readers have expressed the same opinion. But discerning comics’ fans will immediately recognize something else that sets McKinney’s work apart.
Greg studied at Joe Kubert’s Graphic Art School where he received a degree in penciling. Reviewing some of the suggestions that Kubert marked on McKinney’s work, I asked him what he got from it. “Man, everyone has their own style. He (Kubert) taught me a lot but when you go to do something it’s different.” Ultimately, he says, you just go-for-it.
In an exclusive interview with Michael Dooley and Steven Heller, both editors and art directors of such periodicals as PRINT Magazine and New York Times Book Review, legendary artist Joe Kubert responded to, “Do you encourage experimental narrative?” He said, “Absolutely.” Which may explain the confidence McKinney presents in his work.
It is bold.
Another indication of McKinney’s attitude towards comics is divined by Kubert himself in that same interview. “What qualities do you look for when accepting students to the Joe Kubert School Of Cartoon and Graphic Art?” Kubert thought, then answered, “The most important quality necessary is a commitment, a very strong commitment on the part of the person who wants to come to the school. That this is a decision that they’ve made not only out of curiosity or because they think it might be good for them to make a living at it. It’s a matter of dedication.”
McKinney certainly has that.
The journey to graphic arts began with inspiration from the square jawed approach of Frank Miller’s Sin City. “I’ve always had ideas, writing crossed my mind but everything I see is really visual and comics were a way to get that out there. Learning how took more work than expected but this is the only medium that could tell these stories right.” He set out to create his own phantasmagoric prophesies of alternative reality: his first was Manimal Vice. Think The Island Of Doctor Moreau meets Bad Boys II.
He finished the graphic novel in his cell and started another. Building story-telling techniques and style under Kubert’s tutelage. McKinney amassed a library of rough work he planned to publish after release. And he’s doing it NOW.
Working inside prison was a catalyst for sanity throughout his ten year sentence. Each year of it he watched development in the legalization of marijuana feeling that “By the time I get out the shit will be legal everywhere.” His comics aren’t invaded by bitterness. Instead they embrace the energy and creativity that pulled him through it.
His comics got wilder and wilder.
By the time he was finished three full-length graphic novels filled his locker. The idea was to publish the most definitive one first, Barberetta. But a trilogy of jewels is ready for the crown McKinney has crafted in darkness. The next book, his best, should come out soon, Monster Force. If Elvira were still around it would be a perfect feature introduction, a reunion of classic baddies including The Wolfman, Dracula, and Frank, whose cigar chomping death wish establishes him as leader of the crew monitored by a disgraced Old Catholic Priest on a mission to stop evil decreed by the Pope.
Imagine Robert Kirkman’s Battle Pope with a major dose of ‘don’t give a fuck’ and you have a picture of McKinney’s next project.
“I’m just having fun,” McKinney explained. “If it sells, readers like it, then I did my job. But for anyone to sit down and do all this work there has to be some reward. It all begins with asking yourself am I going to enjoy this?” He has answered, yes, four times. His first mini-comic, Zombie Dope, is available on Kindle. Though readers didn’t foam at the mouth for it, it was a necessary stage in his development as an artist.
McKinney has perfected his form. His work evokes the scent of a cult-following, drafting some unforgettable scenes, like Barberetta’s self-service or the dispatch of Satan at the End of Monster Force, involving a dramatic time-bomb double-cross through a closing arcane portal, while Frank lights a cigar off the surrounding rubble-fires saying, “He wasn’t very tough.”
It’s as if an even more garish Quentin Tarantino existed in another dimension, drawing comics AND doing some time.
When his go-for-it graphics work it is magic, portraying his unique lens on reality. At his best McKinney stumbles along making you feel something. For example, on one page a hippopotamus prostitute goes down on Tony, a tiger-man detective in Manimal Vice; in the next panel we only see Tony’s broad smile, slicing the darkness like a Cheshire cat. That’s exactly how McKinney sees readers, after they experience one of his bound-to-be cult classics.
“The bottom line is I do whatever the fuck feels right,” he says.
Tim Yates does it all. His new comic book series, Anne Bonnie, is a visual epic that blends historical references with his own storyline. The artwork is stunning and his comic is making waves in the industry while making him a name to be reckoned with in the comics world. Tim has worked as a colorist on many projects, including Spike’s 1000 Ways to Die, Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales, Jabal Entertainment’s Jinnrise, and now Blue Juice Comic’s The Accelerators. But his real talent is as a creator, writer and artist of books like Anne Bonnie and Failhunter. He has been busy promoting his work but the New Jersey native and Kubert School of Cartooning graduate took time to talk to the GRIND about his fascinating Anne Bonnie series.
Where did you get the idea to do a comic on Anne Bonnie?
Pirates of the Caribbean was a big inspiration to me, the world of pirates was very intriguing. And I knew I wanted to have a female protagonist, so when I started researching famous pirates in history, the story of Anne Bonney stood out to me, and the rest fell into place from there.
In your book do any of the other historical pirate characters come into play?
I have a lot of other characters that surrounded Anne Bonney in history make appearances, such as Calico Jack and Mary Reed and so on.
Describe your storyline for the Anne Bonnie character?
Anne Bonnie in my story was the pirate queen, and ruled the sea with an iron fist. But she’s not the main character of the story. The protagonist is a girl named Ariana who grew up hearing the legends of Anne Bonnie and dreams of being a pirate herself. The comic takes place a number of years after the pirate queen’s mysterious disappearance, and as Ariana tries to find her place as a pirate in the world, the story of Anne Bonnie is told.
How much to real history do you stick? Or is time period and character al you draw from reality?
Anne Bonnie takes place in a fantasy world with magic and magical creatures, so the story as such evolved from a historical fiction into more of a what-if these characters had lived in a fantasy world. I draw as much as I can of the characters from history and have it in their back-story, but at it’s core, the story is fictional.
You draw and write this comic, is that how you envisoned it?
I originally envisioned teaming up with a writer on the story, and worked with my good friend Lelan Estes co-writing on the first issue of the comic, and my friend Tony Vassallo helping me lay the pages out. But I’ve always been an aspiring creator in all aspects, and decided if I was ever going to get better at writing, I couldn’t rely on someone else to produce the script for the comic for me. I’ve still got a lot to learn of the craft, but it’s been an exciting journey so far!
Did you start as a writer or artist and how did the other talent evlove?
I started as a dreamer, creating stories and characters in my head during idle moments. When I decided to turn my passion for creating into a reality, I knew the only way I could do it is if I could produce them myself without relying on pitching them as scripts or hiring an artist to draw them, and the Kubert School was the best place I could find for learning how to do that. So the first talent I focused on refining was art, and the writing side of it was more self-taught as I went.
When is the graphic novel coming out?
The first trade paperback collecting issues 1-6 of Anne Bonnie is scheduled to come out at New York Comic Con in October, and it will be available in stores later in the year.
How many issues do you have planned for Anne Bonnie?
I haven’t decided on how long the comic will run for. If it’s successful, I have enough story planned for a decade of Anne Bonnie comics, but it all depends on sales and how fast I can make the books. If I have my way, Anne Bonnie will have a long and healthy run, and the pirate queen will never die!
How is the comic doing sales and promotion wise?
The comic is doing better than I ever would have dreamed my first try at a comic book could do. The response from fans has been incredible, and the sales have been very good for a new creator like myself. I feel the demand for a fun, all-ages comics that parents can buy for their kids is very high in the industry right now, and that’s partially to credit for the book’s success. But I’ve gotten responses from people of all ages and genders that enjoy the book, and that makes me a very happy creator.
What have you been doing to generate sales and publicity and promoting the book?
We’ve taken out ads, promoted on social media, and I’ve been on several podcasts with wonderful people who let me talk about my book to their listeners. And the book has spread little by little from word of mouth, people telling their friends about the series for themselves or their kids, and I’m grateful for everyone who has shared my comic in this way.
You can check out Tim Yates on social media on twitter and instagram as @yatescomics, and at his personal website yatescomics.com. The website for his publisher is Bluejuicecomics.com, and you can buy all his books there. Also check out-
K.Anthony Lawler is a fine artist and story teller. His work can been seen equally displayed on comic shelves and galleries alike. He is an avid enthusiast of science communication, atheist advocacy, art exploration and spends the majority of his time enriching his life with those pursuits. He has worked on comic projects such as: 25AZ, Product of Society, Moonlight Macabre, Butterfly: Flutter, Pretty Face, most recently American Grind and displays his paintings in venues around the country. He currently resides in the heart of the mid west, but will be relocating to the upper east coast to pursue a terminal degree (MFA) in studio practice. He is focused, energetic and determined to advance his life and those around him through art, love and travel. He regularly attends comic cons and you can catch him in artists alley at one near you and get him to draw a commission for you. To find out more about K. Anthony The Gr1nd set down with him to see whats up. This is the exclusive interview-
Why did you become an artist?
I grew up using art as a novelty. Kids thought my drawings were funny or “cool”; whatever that meant at the time. But I was never serious about it. It wasn’t until I grew older and had my son that I said to myself, “huh…you might need to develop a purpose for your life or a desirable pursuit”. It’s important to be an example for your children. So because of that I decided to join back with higher education and pursue something I found joy in as a youth. Art came naturally to me, but I wasn’t fully serious about my goals or abilities until I met an amazing professor there, Kaven. He enriched the experience for me and it was under his guidance I discovered my ability and love of paint. It was like an entire window opened up to a universe I thought wasn’t really for me. Everything after that fell into place. I’ve only been painting/comic’ing for about 5-6 years now. My experience proved to me the value a mentor can have on a student(s); I oriented my life in that vein and have since become an educator to fulfill the same role.
How did you learn to draw?
I don’t think I ever really “learned” to draw. Not to sound pompous or obnoxious or anything, it was just something I never really put in a lot of effort into, least in the beginning. Through primary and secondary school, you just took art that’s what you did. So I developed naturally in that vein and I guess had some natural talent there, so it seemed silly to focus so hard. It was never really important to me. Only after coming back to art and developing a purpose for my life had I decided to focus my skills and work my ass off at something. I saw people around me struggling with their lives, jobs, skills, etc and I knew that if I was going to struggle, I was going to struggle with something I could be passionate about, something I could use to enrich my life as well as others, as I saw my instructors doing. So focus, I guess. I learned by focus and the desire to make something of myself. That doesn’t really answer anything does it?
What artists inspire you or have influenced your work?
I’ve never been one to marvel at art history books or research famous artist of the past, although I do have some I admire. I’m actually more interested in scientific discoveries and technological progression. But I’m a unique case. I’m only recently coming back to art after denying it’s qualities for so long. Through my education, as an artist, I have developed a love of movements. I’m drawn to artists from Dada and Futurism. I love either the dissociation they felt from the world or the fervor they held for progress of society. Of course, also surrealism and metaphysical art. I’m inspired by any artist who is carving an interesting niche in an area/medium I’m currently not a part of. I’m fascinated by sculpture.
You have been in the con scene for a minute, what’s it like?
Ha. The con scene is the most ludicrous, absurd, incredible, amazing, bonkers, wack-a-doodle place I’ve ever experienced; I love it. There is nothing quite the same. The best part of comic-con is the full undiluted positivity that exists there. Most everyone is happy and friendly, if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be there. Conventions are the development of a family. They are wonderful in so many ways, I cannot begin to express the level of gratitude I have to the people who encouraged me to get involved and to the people I meet who motivate me to stay.
What have you learned in you art career so far?
One of the most important things in an artist’s career is relationships. I think the biggest things I’ve learned, so far, is how positive and impactful it can be to develop and maintain good relationships with other creatives and admirers of you work. Without a core base of individuals supporting your efforts and giving you their strength, the art road can be a long one. I think that’s the most valuable tool I’ve gained. Never waste a moment that you could be talking to and meeting new people. Life is all about relationship, from one to the next. For an artist, its critical. Oh, and you have to be cool. Don’t be a dick.
What comic books have you worked on?
I co-own my own comic label, CME, with two friends and brothers, Donovan Klingel and Donny Hills. We’ve been in collaboration for the last 8 years. We write, illustrate and publish our own trades: 25AZ, Moonlight Macabre and our newest line, Into the Ether. Ether has been a brain child of ours for quite a while and while it has been slow moving, but the trend is swinging in the other direction, so I am eager to present that project soon. I also have worked with Cheese Lord comics and their series: Product of Society. Most recently I have been involved with Ghost Town and Stache Publishing and have worked on several of their amazing books: Pretty Face and Butterfly.
Where else is your work featured?
As a painter, my canvas work can be found in the areas and venues around my home (restaurants, galleries, tattoo shops), however most of my traffic comes from online (www.kanthonyart.com). Woah, look at that plug! But I participate in festivals, conventions and any other opportunities as they present themselves.
What new projects are you working on?
Currently on the comic drawing board are projects with Stache Publishing, including Butterfly: Flutter and a Hunter S. Thompson novel (in the making). Independently, I keep busy with several oil paintings, which I have been feverishly working on, titled: Capio and Captura. Both of which are now complete and I have been humbled by the overwhelming response to them; I’m so very lucky to have the support I have.I’m also extremely excited about a new project currently in development called, American Grind. It centers on the abuse of drug culture and shines a light on the roll of conviction through the eyes of an interviewed convict in a documentary setting. The imagery is incredibly strong and the story is just as vibrant. I’m the most excited about this project at the moment.
What is your favorite piece you have drawn?
That is hard to identify. As someone who is consistently looking forward and always running toward the newest project, I tend not to look back very often. I would say my favorite piece would be the very first piece I created, A Cleansing and my most recent, Captura. A Cleansing is special to me as the figure in the portrait is the love of my life, my fiancé and life partner Ashley, and it was my first glimpse of what I could accomplish with paint. Captura, is on that short list as well only because it is the most recent piece that has captured my attention; Captura is a latin word for “to capture” so that seems to make sense. Essentially, whichever piece I’m working on currently is my favorite piece. I feel if it wasn’t I would never finish it.
What lies in the future for you?
Oh right now, I’m on the cusp of an amazing transition. I’m relocating to the east coast, near NYC to pursue a MFA in studio art. It’s bitter sweet. On the one hand, it is truly an amazing opportunity, one that will allow me to grow both professionally and personally; yet I’m leaving a convention circuit and a market that I have grown to love and care about. On the other hand, it will afford me more time and greater focus to improving my independent art and story-telling projects. In any event, NYC will play a unique part in my life and I’m excited to enter it.
Describe your art style
Disgusting. It’s just gross. Yah, I don’t know. You take a look. You decide. That’s all that really matters. Alright, alright. You want more? Ok, my paintings are figurative dreamscapes coupled with surrealist metaphysical elements, contrasted with vibrant energetic marks of dark wild color. I simply try produce something of internal motivation for myself. I ponder a word or phrase and let that settle into me for a while, then after I sense an interesting image or concept I become motivated and start creating. That’s all you really can do: Produce something that holds value to you. If you desire it, many times others will see your passion and will value it as well. Oh, and I produce comics, sometimes. Ha!
In the first part of the interview with Julian Darius we talked about his background with Sequart, his comic criticism, and his new work Martian Comics. In this second part we dig deeper into the unexpected influences on the new sci-fi comic.
Issue #1 of Martian Comics worked Jesus into a background story. Could you describe the genesis of that idea?
That’s a good question, and I’m surprised people haven’t talked more about it.
As part of planning Martian Lit some years ago, I had the idea of giving the business its own backstory. So the “About Us” page would really believe that it was written by Martians. So the publisher itself was kind of a work of fiction. That felt aggressive and bizarre and right to me. So I kind of wrote up this backstory, and it included the idea that Martians were trying to enlighten us by possessing us. I thought it was fun to point out that this program obviously hasn’t been entirely successful. Later in the same document, I made a parenthetical reference, after citing an A.D. date, to how this was only one system of dating based on a Martian emissary who humans had murdered. You could say it was a little joke, but I also thought it was a sly and interesting idea, to put this in a parenthetical, because it suggested the Martians don’t see Jesus or how he’s been interpreted the same way we do.
Time passed, and my friend Kevin Thurman had the idea of merging his idea for a comic about an alienated college student who’s dealing with the widespread disaffection of youth with my Martian backstory. So suddenly, I started thinking about this Martian backstory again. And in my mind, that parenthetical Jesus reference was canonical, so to speak. It was part of this Martian mythology.
I was struggling with what became chapter three of “The Girl from Mars,” which is in issue #1 and is basically a single conversation with all of these turns in it. It was very hard for me to write, because I hate how “by the way, I’m an alien / have super-powers” conversations are handled in most genre fiction. These conversations sometimes occur under duress, like during a fight. A lot of times, a character who’s supposed to be incredulous sees a display of power and instantly buys the whole story, but that really makes no sense. In the same way that a miracle wouldn’t prove someone is an angel, or the Son of God, or anything but that they seemed to perform a miracle, firing a blast from your hand doesn’t prove you’re an alien sent to stop bad guys who are out to destroy the world. So I did a lot of thinking about this, and I really wanted this dialogue-heavy chapter to be incredibly crisp and witty and like nothing else you’ve ever read — certainly not like any other version of the “I’m an alien” conversation you’ve ever seen.
That was the genesis of the “you dye your hair” line, as the more immediate response to Izzy claiming she’s an alien. Here’s her sister, who knows her, and she interprets this as an ethnic otherness. It felt right. It felt familiar. And it plays on the multiple meanings of the word “alien,” which has come to mean an extraterrestrial but was earlier and is also employed to mean a foreigner, the way some say “illegal alien.”
In the same way, I thought the difference between this Martian’s and this human’s perspectives was perfectly illustrated by Izzy saying that Jesus was a Martian emissary. It’s a one-liner, in the same way that the parenthetical on the Martian Lit “About Us” page was a one-liner. But the idea is that Izzy, as a Martian, is trying to explain how this works, and she knows that one of these emissaries her sister knows is Jesus, so Izzy states this matter-of-factly. Of course, while totally sane from a Martian perspective, this sounds completely insane from a human perspective, because it sounds like Izzy is comparing herself to Jesus, which is this total red flag, messiah-complex thing. So I thought mentioning that in the comic worked, and was a great beat in the conversation that served multiple purposes: maybe blowing readers’ minds, letting us understand this Martian enlightenment program in a concise way, illustrating the difference between Martian and human perspectives, and also providing this pivot point in two sisters’ difficulty communicating at this key moment in the narrative.
All of this was totally organic. There was no agenda to be “this is the Jesus was a Martian” comic. This isn’t Battle Pope. I dig that kind of stuff, but it’s not what I’m doing.
I was probably only done with the first or maybe the second chapter of “The Girl from Mars” when I wrote “The Galilean,” the first back-up, which ran in issue #1. That’s the Jesus story. It’s just five pages, and it basically is just an elaboration on this idea. I actually reread the Gospels to write it, even though it’s just five pages. It starts with Jesus going through the same process of being possessed, which we’ve seen in the main story. We see his family rejecting him and trying to take him back, which is Biblical, only here that takes on a different meaning. We kind of jump through his ministry, in a kind of Grant Morrison rapid-fire, no-segue-between-panels way. Then there’s the twist ending in which we jump to Mars and hear that this isn’t the first time this particular Martian has been executed. It’s a pretty simply story.
Also in issue #2, you dove further into the Bible with a re-imagining of the resurrection of Lazarus. What inspired you to continue with that story?
“Lazarus,” which ran in issue #2, was the next back-up I wrote, and I think I wrote it before chapter three of “The Girl from Mars.” It’s 13 pages. At its heart, it’s basically a story about what happened after his resurrection. Because that’s not clear in the Bible. His function is basically to get resurrected, as a further proof of Jesus’s power. That’s where his feelings come from, in the story, about how he’s kind of a prop. Everyone sees him as a form of living proof, but he’s a human being, and no one follows up with him to see how he’s doing. Of course, that’s not surprising. I was just talking with a nurse tonight about how people are there when someone’s dying, but mourning is often worse a month later, after people don’t have to be strong to get through anymore, and the real weight of things hits them. It’s kind of human nature not to follow up. Plus, it’s not like there was psychotherapy in first-century Palestine.
Beyond this, there’s that weird aspect of the Biblical story, about how Jesus doesn’t show up while Lazarus is sick, and only shows up when it’s too late, which is why Lazarus needs to be resurrected. That’s Biblical. I didn’t invent it. And it’s really odd, because you’d think that if you were making up this story to make Jesus look good, you wouldn’t make him be a dick and not show up for three days, during which Lazarus dies. But however you understand this, the emphasis is on Jesus doing this great thing, which is obviously the point of the passage, and no one ever apologizes or explains this delay. Which to me further suggests no one’s going to follow up with Lazarus.
Besides, in my story, Lazarus isn’t totally healed. He’s alive, but injuries he had at the time of death don’t heal. He looks like a corpse. So he’s not going to find employment. People aren’t going to accept him. He’s basically a leper. In a time when disease wasn’t understood, physical ailments were seen as demonic, or a curse from the gods for bad behavior, and it was often unsafe to be around the sick or the physically different. So Lazarus is alive, but he has no function, no place.
I just thought all of this was a great story. I loved the idea of the resurrected Lazarus, struggling to figure out his place.
Looking at the Bible through a sci-fi lens is unique in comics. Do you see it as a long jump from the source material?
Technically, you could argue that Jesus raising Lazarus is a sci-fi element. But that really comes in when Lazarus, unable to commit suicide, goes to Jesus for answers. And Jesus doesn’t have them. He couldn’t be a nicer guy about it, and he says as much as he knows, albeit filtered in a way that Lazarus might understand. Which again gets at this difficulty in communicating, across this vast gulf of experience. How would you explain to someone, in first-century Palestine, that there are other planets up there, and some are inhabited, and that no, this isn’t something supernatural, it’s just science that could only be interpreted in this supernatural or mystical way.
To me, when Jesus points to the stars in that story, it’s a very Star Trek moment. It’s a first-century Palestine equivalent of the famous Next Generation scenes in which Picard has someone on the Enterprise and shows them the Earth, or another planet, from space. Those are moving scenes, and they’re rooted in someone not being able to understand, or to fully fathom, something majestic and beautiful and far beyond what they know. There’s also a joy, as a reader or a viewer, in knowing what a character does not, and witnessing this helps us to see the majesty of what that character can’t understand.
With the new issue #3, you’re carrying this even further with the introduction of the Apostle Paul to the Martian Comics world. What interested you toward using him as a character?
The story of St. Paul in Athens is interesting, because it’s really Paul that invents Christianity. Jesus didn’t want to start a new religion, and he’s not concerned with gentiles. It’s Paul who declares he’s had a vision and is opening this Jewish sect that believes Jesus was the messiah for gentile membership. And we know that Paul was recalled by Jesus’s followers, who weren’t happy with what Paul was saying. Paul didn’t know Jesus. He never met Jesus. As a Christian, one could say that Paul didn’t so much invent Christianity as follow divine inspiration; that’s certainly what Paul said he was doing. But it’s Paul that did it. And there’s no doubt, whether by divine inspiration or cynical decision, that Paul changed this Jewish sect to appeal to a gentile audience. The most obvious example is to not require circumcision, which wasn’t going to go over with men in the wider Greco-Roman world.
Lazarus, who in my story has survived, had to witness the birth and spread of Christianity. To not depict that would have been a cop-out. Of course, this presented a great storytelling possibility: someone who knew Jesus, but who no one knows is present or is immortal, seeing someone else preach about Jesus in a way that, inevitably, wouldn’t be exactly the man this someone remembers. There’s a sense of alienation there, of being told your memories aren’t valid, that has a very sci-fi feel to it. It reminds me of how we alter and misremember history even within our own time. Certainly, people who lived long enough in earlier eras lived long enough to watch advocates of one party or another twist history, or to see events twisted to mean a certain thing that they didn’t necessarily mean to those who were there. Obviously, this is based on history, and it’s neither religious propaganda nor anti-religious propaganda. But I should point out that Jesus’s disciples didn’t understand him well (they’re almost comic relief in a lot of the Gospels), and they certainly would be astounded had they heard Paul’s sermons.
What does the setting of ancient Athens bring to the story?
The choice of Athens is fascinating to me. Partly, that’s the “sermon” (it’s more a defense before a semi-formal court) on the Areopagus, in which Paul cites the Unknown God. I find the idea of the Unknown God fascinating. There’s dispute about whether the Athenians actually had an Unknown God, but the dominant theory is that they did, much as Paul’s speech describes. But of course, it’s a sign of humility. The point is “we don’t know all the gods, and if we left a god out, we apologize.” The Unknown God is an acknowledgement of our limits to know the divine. One thing that was always fascinating to me about this story is that Paul saying he’s going to tell Athens about the Unknown God is fitting his God into a polytheistic framework. Of course, it’s a rhetorical tactic on Paul’s part, but the whole point of the Unknown God is that these other gods exist. You can’t say “I know the Unknown God” and also that all those other gods don’t exist. It’s a concept that only makes sense in a polytheistic context.
But Athens is also interesting, because historians largely see it as a failure for Paul. I think we sometimes picture Paul delivering these great sermons across the Roman world, and we imagine that he’s winning converts everywhere. But even in the account in Acts, it’s clear that Paul’s not very successful in Athens. There’s an attempt to say that Paul succeeded and won some converts, but it’s clear that Paul’s a fish out of water there. Athens is the seat of philosophy, and they’ve heard it all before. They’ve heard of a single Creator God who unites all the other gods; Greeks actually came up with that on their own. These are sophisticated people. And most of what Paul does is rant at them about how they’re ignorant. But he doesn’t mean they’re ignorant of a philosophical point. Paul’s not making a philosophical point. His whole point is that he’s right, and therefore others are ignorant. It’s actually a style of argument that we’re familiar with today. It’s basically “I’m right, and you’re ignorant because you disagree.” And that might work in other places, but it’s certainly not going to work in Athens. Athens was the place you went to, to prove your intellectual mettle. Paul seems to think he’s ready, presumably because he really believes in his message. But he doesn’t impress, and he was basically put on trial, and then he quickly leaves the city. And I don’t think he, and by extension Christianity, ever got over this wound. It’s there in St. Augustine especially, and it’s he who asked “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”
So do you see Athens as a sort of battleground between the old-guard of the Greek philosophy and this new form of Jewish faith?
Athens stands for philosophy, for education, for reason. Jerusalem stands for faith. Augustine’s whole argument is that reason has nothing to do with faith. Ironically, Augustine was brilliant, and he teases ideas out with a perverse kind of reason, but he starts from a place of faith. And ultimately, neither he nor early Christianity generally had much tolerance for philosophy or reason. There’s a hostility there, a suspicion. There are thousands of quotes that illustrate this point. Much later, the Scholastics come along, but they met with a lot of hostility in their time. And even today, there’s a lot of suspicion of the academy (a term that goes back to Plato) and of science especially. And it all goes back to Paul at Athens. I think, had Paul been accepted as a great philosopher in Athens, Christianity might have had a very different attitude. Maybe this tension, between faith and reason, was intrinsic to Christianity, but Paul in Athens certainly represented this moment in which that tension didn’t seem so obvious — after all, Paul probably wouldn’t have gone to Athens if he didn’t think there was some chance of success. After Athens, there could be no denying this tension. And it wasn’t forgotten. Eventually, Christianity won power, and it closed Plato’s Academy, which was still running, and it did its best to burn all those great Greek and Roman books.
I’m not picking on Christianity here. Paganism certainly had its problems with reason too. For example, a lot of scientific inquiry was stalled because of religious taboos — like about dissection of corpses — that paganism and Christianity had in common. So it’s not like paganism was this philosophically utopian system. Greek paganism is filled with inanities. But in Athens, the philosophers were pretty irreligious, and Greco-Roman paganism did have the benefit of being pretty religiously tolerant. That’s kind of the point of the Unknown God. It’s an acceptance that religious belief is going to evolve, and other gods can be added, and at least in theory it’s all good.
Anyway, I find all of this fascinating, and Paul’s time in Athens was this kind of a historical pivot point. For the purposes of the story, we get to witness this through the eyes of Lazarus, which lets us see how much Lazarus has changed since last we saw him. He had never left Palestine. Now, he’s in Athens, and he’s seen more of the world. It’s changed him.
So the story is part Biblical exegesis, part historical analysis, partly about how Lazarus has changed, and partly about the surreal experience of hearing someone talk about a person or historical events you witnessed but not recognizing their version or their interpretation. It’s got all of these layers, and hopefully they work together to tell a single, fascinating story in which you couldn’t remove any of these strands without the whole collapsing.
I’ve enjoyed your critique of Miracleman, another book that meshes religious and philosophical themes with speculative fiction. Does that series influence your work?
This is another excellent question that no one has asked me.
I never actually considered the religious themes of Miracleman as an influence on Martian Comics, although you’re right to point that out.
Miracleman is a huge influence on Martian Comics.
One of the clearest influences, to me, is the way that the Other, who is the big villain of “The Girl from Mars,” functions within that story. If you remember early Miracleman, very soon after Miracleman returns, Kid Miracleman summons him. It’s a direct consequence of Miracleman’s return; this other superhuman is out there, and he’s evil, and he’s been there a while without much serious opposition, and he’s this kind of corporate figure. In “The Girl from Mars,” the Other functions in much this same way. Of course, the situation and the powers involved are very different; a charisma field is a lot less melodramatic than all of Miracleman’s powers. But the Other is superficially similar. I even call him the Devil, poetically, the same way he’s called that early in Miracleman. There’s also a death, to demonstrate this villain’s power, in both stories.
A lot of what I’m doing, in “The Girl from Mars,” is kind of improving on things I’ve realized could be improved in Miracleman. An easy example is that the victim, killed as a demonstration, isn’t quite as much of a throwaway character in “The Girl from Mars.” But I also realize, reading Miracleman, Book One, that Kid Miracleman is kind of the star. He’s a great villain, but he’s basically gone within 50 pages. Of course, comics have become more decompressed, but it seems such a shame that Kid Miracleman is introduced and gone so quickly. I think we forget that because the sequence is so effective, but it’s really short. In “The Girl from Mars,” we’re able to explore the Other in a lot more detail than the format of Warrior magazine allowed.
Also, his status as a kind of corporate villain is far, far more important. In Miracleman, that’s almost a throwaway thing. Basically, as soon as he’s introduced as a rich businessman, he’s outed as Kid Miracleman and defeated. We never really get to see him in much of a corporate context. In “The Girl from Mars,” that corporate context is kind of the entire point. We’ve been through Enron, we’ve been through Occupy, we’ve been through countless corporate oil spills, and we’ve been through KBR and other contractors basically running a lot of services in Iraq. If you imagine Kid Miracleman as Dick Cheney, that’s kind of what the Other is. He’s the ultimate evil I can imagine in 2015.
I suppose I also really love the side stories in Alan Moore’s Miracleman (which in my mind include the Warpsmith stories and also that Grant Morrison short that wasn’t published until recently). And I love Neil Gaiman’s Miracleman, especially how he was able to weave these sophisticated stories around all these minor characters and throwaway points from Alan Moore’s run. I suspect something of this has seeped into Martian Comics. In many ways, as a writer, I’m more concerned with these minor characters and the implication of certain situations than I am with the big fights.
Earlier you mentioned your love for shared comic universes. Can you see Martian Comics expanding along those lines?
That’s another thing about Miracleman that’s influenced me — and I don’t think this is totally clear yet, in Martian Comics — is the original idea of Warrior having a shared universe. The idea was that Warpsmith was going to have his own, fuller set of stories. Other characters were going to be integrated. Even V for Vendetta was integrated as a parallel timeline. I think when I started Martian Comics, I was maybe more inspired, in terms of how different stories or characters in Martian Comics interacted, by 2000AD. There are a lot of characters in 2000AD who technically exist within the same world. In terms of the historical and literary scope of these stories, I’d cite both Sandman and Planetary as influences. But the more time goes by, the more I’ve been haunted by that original idea of Warrior, of kind of building this shared universe that’s really, really artistic and good. That didn’t really come together in Warrior, but I still sort of see Miracleman as really part of a universe alongside Warpsmith and maybe Miraclewoman. I still know how to do a full Warpsmith arc and make it finally take its rightful place, alongside the main Miracleman story. And I feel like that’s kind of this part of Miracleman that never got completed. (Call me, Marvel!) As I continue Martian Comics, we’ll see these other characters, like Lazarus, get their own arcs, and I think this is influenced by that Warrior idea of a really artsy shared universe, or a shared universe done right, which I think is even more relevant today, when “shared universe” is such a buzzword after the success of the Marvel movies.
Anything else that readers of Martian Comics expect down the road?
Assuming issue #3 gets funded, we’re going to move right on to issue #4. It’s tentatively planned to run 38 pages of story, which is kind of halfway between a standard issue and this 52-page third issue.
Basically, “The Girl from Mars” is going to continue, alongside more of these side stories. In “The Girl from Mars,” issue #4 begins a subsection of the story in which we’re exploring the secret history of the 20th century. It’s a deep dive into recent history, all from the perspective of this Martian hiding in our midst and manipulating things.
There’s still a ways to go for “The Girl from Mars.” All during this, we’re going to keep publishing these side stories. There will even be some side issues, continuing this historical set of stories. I plan on them continuing, after “The Girl from Mars” is complete. Basically, “The Girl from Mars” is the first volume, and these short stories are eventually going to be the second volume. (Kind of like how Sandman would alternate between present-day arcs and historical shorts.)
There are other stories too, including more Lazarus stories, as well as a few other characters I haven’t introduced yet. We’ll see how far we get. There’s an absurdly long-term plan here, but it scares the hell out of me because it’ll take so long and so much money.
At the time of this article, Martian Comics #3 is a few hundred dollars away and hours from making its crowdfunding goal. To contribute and pick up a copy, visit the Kickstarter campaign. Julian Darius can be connected with on Twitter @JulianDarius. For more information on his body of work, visit Sequart and Martian Lit.
Julian Darius is the author of the literary novel, Nira/Sussa, a meta-retelling of Nabokov’s classic Lolita. In the world of comics, he’s perhaps best known as a founder of Sequart. There he writes intelligent, yet accessible, critiques of classics like Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and Miracleman. Recently with Martian Comics, Darius has launched into creating his own sequential masterpiece. With a new Kickstarter wrapping up to continue the new science-fiction comic, I had the opportunity to speak with him about the craft of comics, the influence of the Moore’s Miracleman on his work , and where Martian Comics is heading.
As a literary novelist, what made you want to start writing comics?
I was into comics before I was into literary fiction. I grew up on comics and sci-fi novels / TV / movies. It was this love that propelled me into studying literature in college. I always wrote comics, from when I was a teen to today; it’s just that I never had an artist or had the money to put a comic together. So I feel like I’m finally making comics, which I wanted to do since I was a teenager.
You are also involved with Sequart, which describes itself as “advancing the art of comics”. For those who aren’t familiar, could you explain more about the organization?
When I was an undergrad, comics weren’t respected as a medium. I loved my professors, but they didn’t understand that comics should be studied like literature or movies were. Sequart was an attempt to rectify this.
In doing so, it’s always aimed to be accessible, because I don’t think academia should own analysis; intellectualism should be open to all. At the same time, it’s important to discuss and study comics seriously, the way we do literature and movies, and to bring to that discussion some awareness of the history of literature, not just the history of super-hero comics, and how we talk about literature.
As a writer with a literature background, what is your take on the modern American comic scene?
Superficially, it would seem like comics finally have respect. I run into strangers who can talk about them with me. It happened just the other day at a store, and it’s great. Hollywood loves comics as source material. Comics are covered in major outlets. But I’ve realized that there still isn’t a body of criticism, the way literature and movies have. So you still see people angry that someone’s written a negative but thoughtful review — which wouldn’t happen in literature or serious discussion of movies. And you see a level of harassment of women, especially for paying attention to gender issues or representations, that is just unacceptable. These are things we have to move beyond, if we’re really going to be a literary art.
The comics themselves today are a mixed bag. A lot of people say we have more good comics today than ever, but I don’t feel that way. Almost certainly, there are more comics being produced in America today than ever before. But I don’t always see the level of craft that I feel should be there, this many decades into a medium.
Could you give an example of a critically-acclaimed work that perhaps fall-short in terms of craft?
I can think of one comic that’s been on lots of “best of” lists. In the first issue, the first page gives way to a double splash page, which is supposed to establish this wild setting for the series. Double splashes are overdone, to me, but the real problem was that I could not figure out what was being depicted. I could kind of guess, read forward, and come back to see if this information helped me visually decipher the image. But this is not good, and obviously confusion is not the desired result of a double-page splash reveal. In the past, perhaps there would have been a caption explaining all of this. We’ve moved away from captions generally, and moved towards letting the visuals carry the story. But if the visual isn’t working, you have to step in as a writer and add a short caption to make it clear to the reader what’s important in the image, or even what the image is depicting. This is pretty basic stuff. A writer can’t turn in his or her script and then assume it all works out. And if he or she does, it’s the editor’s job to notice these problems and get them fixed. But this simply isn’t happening. And this example is one made by indisputably talented and experienced people. I’m kind of at a loss to explain this sort of thing.
I see this kind of thing all the time. On a purely technical level, comics have a lot of problems. What’s interesting is that they generally look beautiful. They’re not written better than ever, but they’re prettier. Computer coloring has come such a long way. There’s also a real sense of design work on some titles, which got going in the 1980s and has kept growing. American comics have gotten more decompressed, more art-focused, and you certainly don’t feel like most comics today are cramped or caption-heavy.
Super-hero comics are filled with elaborate fight scenes and high stakes. No one fight Stilt-Man for an issue anymore; it’s all falling floating cities and the like. There’s an obvious Hollywood influence. And I’m glad comics look good. I’m glad when they’re concerned with visual storytelling, as opposed to just visuals. But I worry that too many are chasing cool visuals and not focused on the nuts and bolts of plot and character. Certainly, I don’t see a whole lot of comics aspiring to be literary, the way comics did when they were trying to get respect.
But maybe I’m wrong. There are certainly a lot of really good comics today. They’re predominantly from Image, but also from IDW, Dark Horse, and other independent publishers. There are some Kickstarter comics that are just ingenious.
In the late 1980’s it seemed that comics championed intelligent writing, with creators like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman starting to get new respect for the medium. Do you think the momentum has carried forward?
Maybe I’m just a guy who was trained in literature, at a time when comics aspired to be literature, and so I feel like something’s missing that no one else feels. Combine this with the current attention to cool veneer, and it’s easy to feel cynical, even amidst a wide variety of comics, many of them good.
Back when Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was coming out, it seemed like it was taking a decade of comics aiming at being more literary. Alan Moore’s work was literary; he was celebrated very much for that reason. Grant Morrison pushed comics into tackling some strange ideas, but they were put together in this very literary way that seemed to celebrate intelligence. Hell, the metafiction at the end of Grant’s Animal Man was a literary device; it was brilliantly done, but it was the importation into comics of this literary device.
Some people may associate “literary” with being inaccessible and highbrow. Do you see it that way?
Being literary doesn’t have to mean being snooty. Jamie Delano was bringing literary horror to Hellblazer. Even mainstream super-heroes were getting more literary. Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Elektra work was definitely a step in this direction. Gaiman’s Sandman seemed like it was pushing this forward and applying it to fantasy comics, and it really pushed the genre forward. At the time, we thought this would continue, that we’d keep elevating things as we matured as a medium. And we have in some ways, but I can’t help but feel like we’ve retreated a bit from these high-art aspirations. That was never the majority of comics published, but it seems like these aspirations have been replaced by a veneer of cool that doesn’t satisfy the same things.
But again, maybe I’m wrong. And I’m glad anytime anyone likes a comic, even if it’s not for me. I sometimes think that, because I have high expectations, people think I’m snooty or hate that they enjoy comics or movies that I don’t think are very well put-together. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think it’s great that some people dug Age of Ultron, even though I think it’s objectively a mess of a story, filled with things that don’t make sense and kind of ruin the story for me. But look, I grew up on a lot of fun but kind of trashy stuff, and I still love a lot of fun but kind of trashy stuff, and it’s all good. I just think there ought to be more of an alternative. Harry Potter’s fine, campy sci-fi novels are fine, but let’s carve out a space for some other stuff.
I reserve the right to feel differently tomorrow.
What would you consider a step toward a better future for the American comic industry?
I definitely think the shared universes are mismanaged, to one degree or another. I have studied shared universes my whole life, and I have a great fondness for them.
Personally, I’d just like to see a focus on quality, on getting things right. I firmly believe most people do their best, under the constraints they have. But we’re living in an era in which comics live forever, not only in collections but in digital sales. Everything’s permanent. I’m sure most companies are still focused on monthly sales, but I’d rather see titles run late, or see fewer titles, and have them be as good as possible, so they’ll stand up to future scrutiny and study.
I don’t like all the reboots, and I don’t like variant covers. I know these are part of the business model now. But it’s foreign to me. The way my brain works, the question is always “How will this stand up 20 years from now?” If you’re building a character, or a series, or a company, that’s the most important question. Everything else is just what you need to do to survive in order to build this amazing thing. An amazing thing people should want to read and study forever. But I’m obviously in the minority.
I’m sure a lot of creators would like to see big changes, in terms of the actual structure of the business. Page rates haven’t changed much in decades. Artists often aren’t given equal credit as co-creators. Editors seem to be dictating to writers and artists, which works against the sort of singular vision that we prize so highly in art and literature. I think there are ways to take a softer editorial hand, in order to manage a shared universe, while also giving creators more freedom.
Any particular works that you feel represent the high-mark of the comic craft?
Historically, I’d probably list a lot of the same comics as others. Will Eisner’s graphic novels. Watchmen. I’d put Miracleman in there. Sandman. We3. The final issue of The Invisibles. Planetary. Understanding Comics.
I think the French series The Obscure Cities is right up there; I’ve written about that. I think Metabarons belongs there, despite the legitimate criticism of Jodorowsky, especially in recent years.
These are just off the top of my head. I love Joe Kubert, Denny O’Neil / Neil Adams Batman stuff, and a lot of what others would list. Some Jack Cole Plastic Man, some of the Spirit.
In terms of indies, I’m more of a Chris Ware or an Adrian Tomine kind of guy than some of the others. I like that kind of artistic precision. I’m a big admirer of Jason Aaron. Southern Bastards may be my favorite comic being published today.
There’s a lot more that isn’t coming to mind at the moment, and I’m sure I’m leaving out stuff by people I know and respect. But I think we ought to be able to separate what’s cool and enjoyable from what’s arguably a high water mark of the craft. I like a lot of stuff, in comics and out, that’s fun and cool. I’m glad for it, and you can do fun artistically and in ways that are well-crafted. But I feel like the task of advancing comics isn’t done, and that part of this is generating works that can arguably fit among these earlier works and stand alongside great novels and great movies. Not every comic has to do that, but there should be a place for it, and it’s a noble thing to attempt.
Let’s talk about Martian Lit and your move into becoming an indie comic-creator. What particularly attracted to you to sci-fi as a genre?
I’ve always loved sci-fi. I think sci-fi is uniquely able to interrogate complex and meaningful issues.
If you look at classic Star Trek, it was often about present-day issues like racism. But on a deeper level, there are issues there about colonialism. What is the Prime Directive but an anti-colonial reaction? Maybe it’s an overreaction, and maybe it’s too utopian. We can debate this, and in the process we question whether humans are innately aggressive, innately prone to exploitation, even when we consciously think it’s liberating or helping people. These are big issues, and you can weave complex and beautiful stories around them.
I also think sci-fi is often able to get us to think outside of ourselves and our own cultural viewpoint. To some extent, this is what we get out of fiction anyway. We read about experiences other than our own, and we experience them vicariously through fiction. But there are ways we can’t get outside of ourselves and our own viewpoint. We’re human. We’re gendered. We’re locked in our own historical and ethnic experiences, for better and for worse. Sci-fi sometimes lets us see humanity from outside, or as outside as we’re capable of projecting. It lets us see ourselves, and think in different ways.
What does your writing method for comics look like?
A lot of times, the way I write is to sort of pin down key scenes, or sequences, or moments, or visuals, or lines of dialogue. Basically, I want everything to work — every page, every panel, every line. I don’t write from start to finish. I often write scenes, or moments, that I know work, and I write them out of sequence. Eventually, I figure out what the soul of a story is, and I’ll have a motif and a theme and linked events that work as a whole. But in the meantime, I kind of feel like I’m nowhere, or I’m uncertain about exactly how to proceed. And these little visuals, or lines of dialogue that are really working, act almost like parts of a structure, supporting beams, which get cemented in my mind. As I think of the story over and over, I’ll see how other parts of the story can interact with these cemented elements, and I think this makes the story richer, because I’ve been able to see the implications of these elements, and make sure everything in the story works as a whole, rather than writing from point A to B and only later realizing that stuff along the way doesn’t really thematically work or belong or need to be in this particular story.
I know this all sounds weird. But it’s my writing method.
With issues #1 and #2 already out, what has the reception been to Martian Comics?
I feel like I’ve made a pretty great product, and I’m very happy with it, and people who have read it say they like it and want more. But it’s bankrupted me financially, and I’m borrowing to keep it going, and that’ll still be the case after this Kickstarter. I’ve basically wagered my future on this comic, and I’m willing to do that. I believe in it, passionately, and I’m a stubborn guy. But it’s scary, to be honest. I’m just hoping that it grows and finds its audience over time.
Sometimes, I joke that I feel like only 100 people have read this comic, but 99 of them loved it. Maybe it’ll be something that finds its audience in ten years. I just don’t want it to die before it can be completed, so that people can see the big picture and see what I’ve got planned.
But enough of my frustrations and fear.
Every time someone pledges to a Kickstarter campaign, the Kickstarter website sends the email associated with that campaign an email. It’s a notification, and you can turn it off.
Every single time I’ve gotten one of those emails, it’s like a breath of fresh air. It’s like a vote for me not giving up. It may be a friend, who supports me, or it may be a reader, who supports the comic. It may also be someone who just saw the video and thought the new issue was worth five bucks, sight unseen. But each one of those notifications means the world to me. Of course, it’s great to get a big pledge that gets us closer to our goal. But every single backer is a boost of confidence. It’s a voice that says yes, this should exist. Make this exist.
And I’m so thankful for every single one of those voices.
Come back for the second part of the interview where we discuss the historical, religious, and other unexpected influences on Martian Comics.
At the time of this article, Martian Comics #3 is a few hundred dollars away and hours from making its crowdfunding goal. To contribute and pick up a copy, visit the Kickstarter campaign. Julian Darius can be connected with on Twitter @JulianDarius. For more information on his body of work, visit Sequart and Martian Lit.