Interview: Alison Sampson

I'm sure this all goes smoothly for everyone involvedHere at C!TB, we’re always on the lookout for new comics and creators to check out; one upcoming book that really captured our imaginations and passion was Genesis, a graphic novella being released by Image Comics in comic shops tomorrow (April 16, 2014) and in bookstores on April 24th, 2014.  Being so excited about the book’s release, it was a treat to talk with the book’s artist, Alison Sampson, about her work process, translating different scenes and how being an architect influences her comic art.  

Interview: Kurtis J. Weibe

00. SECOND TIME’S THE CHARM

Sometimes you don’t get hit right away. For me, this usually happens with music – I’ll listen to an album once, gloss over the melodies and the lyrics, and write off the whole experience as… well, not a waste, but as something that isn’t striking. Often times later, I’ll listen to the very same album, just at a different time or place, and suddenly, everything clicks. What was once pleasant enough sound becomes music, beautiful and lyrical.

Such was my experience with Green Wake.

I will admit, I bought the book because I will, quite honestly, buy anything that series artist Riley Rossmo touches.

The man is a god damn comic art mad scientist – a fact confirmed for me every other month when one of my file customers drops into the store showing me another piece of amazing original art he bought from one of Riley’s books.

Anyway, I originally bought the book for his artwork. Then I read the book and I was… well, I liked it just fine, but it didn’t get into my bones. Then a month later, issue two came out – and I decided that before I dove into that, I would refresh myself – and god damn was I surprised by what I read. It almost seemed like a different book. Now obviously, the book itself hadn’t changed… but my experience sure did.

On the surface, Green Wake is an atmospheric murder mystery. Set in an odd, wet shanty town and filled with a mix of horror noir characters, the book is at turns mysterious and creepy. But within the body of the beast, laced into the bones, are love stories. All kinds of them. It was this discovery that cracked everything wide open for me, and caused me to fall in love with the book – and I’m quite glad I did. It’s a pretty amazing read.

Recently, I had a chance to correspond with the series writer Kurtis J. Wiebe - writer of other books such as Intrepids for Image, Snow Angel by Arcana, and Beautiful Creatures from Red 5 Comics. The resulting conversation looked a bit like this.

01. MEANWHILE AND ELSEWHERE

C!TB: What are some things that you’ve enjoyed reading lately? We’re talking anything – books, magazines, comics, sign posts.

Kurtis Wiebe: I’ve been reading food labels. I’m very interested in the nutritional benefits of food, so I read a lot of food labels.

I’ve also finally been able to get back on track with my comic reading. I’d lost out over the summer as I was still working a day job plus managing two comic series. Right now I’ve managed to get through the first 3 trades of Northlanders by Brian Wood, Atomic Robo by Brian Clevenger, and recently finished Done to Death by Andrew Foley.

C!TB: Done to Death is fantastic! My favourite stories never forget to be fun, you know? A well placed joke or character quirk in the midst of a Very Serious Moment does more for me than any kind of straight laced, uber-grim “nothing will ever be the same” plot twist.

I like seeing Atomic Robo in your list there as well. Your science-gone-mad series Intrepids reminded me a lot of Robo with a bit of Umbrella Academy thrown in for good measure.

KW: Thanks! I’ve cited Umbrella Academy as a definite touchstone for Intrepids, but obviously a little bit lighter in tone. Robo is a great series and WAY more people need to be reading it.

02. WELCOME TO GREEN WAKE

C!TB: The bones of Green Wake are this beautiful alt-world sort of murder mystery, but at the book’s core – or at least the first arc – there’s a very nice love story radiating outwards. When you were creating the concept, was it always anchored by this kind of story, or was this something the world sort of pushed forward?

KW: That was a rather organic element of Green Wake. The entire concept started off with the town and what it meant for people to live there. Every resident has some sort of guilt that keeps them attached to the place, and for our main characters it was important to make their stories deep and meaningful.

I’ve gone on the record before that Morley’s story is a mirror of what I went through my own life, even though the incidents are entirely different. I was working through some issues in my life and Green Wake was the perfect therapy. I think it was the reason I was able to get so much emotion on the page because it came from a very real place.

C!TB: The emotion of it really shown through. I remember you had talked a little bit about some personal turmoil you had gone through in the back matter of the first of Intrepids, and I wondered if that had informed this story. The pain felt by Morley (one of the main characters of Green Wake) just rang so true.

KW: It’s definitely coming from a similar place. While Intrepids talked about family and the nature of relationships between friends and loved ones, Green Wake was a little bit more pointed in its inspiration in how we deal with romantic love. It’s an entirely different animal and I believe we feel that kind of relationship in a much deeper way. So, yes, it was the same topic only it was being dealt with from differing perspectives.

03. 9 TO 5

C!TB: You recently announced that you’ve become a full time writer. Was there a shift in the way you manage your day as a result? How does the life of a freelancer go.

KW: It’s a huge difference. One of the major changes was getting used to all the extra time in the day. It wasn’t a stretch to say that I would routinely work 80 hour weeks between my day job and the writing, so having an extra 40 hours a week was quick a shock.

I’m still learning to balance my life. I quite easily will work all day and night, mostly networking and promoting, because there is no separation from home life and work life when they both take place in the same space.

I love it though, this is what I’ve dreamed of for years; being my own boss, setting my own hours, being responsible and rewarded for the quality of my work. It’s all very satisfying.

C!TB: That’s the dream. I have my job managing a comic store, but like… oh, let’s say 50-90% of all fans, the dream would be to create, and it’s that 80 hour work week that’ll separate those that talk and those that do – and right now, I’m mostly talk.  It’s not like I’m short on inspiration. I’m surrounded by it. Casanova, Morning Glories, Umbrella Academy, Atomic Robo – and yes this seems like pandering, but Green Wake. As far as I’m concerned, it’s yours and Riley Rossmo’s best work by far.

Were there any books or writers or artists who sparked that need to create in you? That made you think, “man, this is what I want to do”?

KW: Warren Ellis was one of the first writers I followed when I discovered comics in the mid 2000’s. I think that initial connection has held over as I still like to read whatever it is he’s working on.

A lot of the appeal comes from my need to share creative passion. I wrote a lot of short stories before my move to comics and I found that to be such an insular experience. I had the opportunity to share those stories with an online community, but there’s nothing like the back and forth with another creative person in the development of a comic project. It’s my favourite part about comics and what I think sets it above any other form of writing for me.

04. THE FUTURE

C!TB: What are some things we can expect from you coming up?

KW: Lots. I’m gearing up for a huge 2012. Just before the New Year you will see my first Marvel work with a small short in their Holiday Annual. I wrote the Wolverine and X-men piece and my novel Between Worlds comes out next month. In February I have a new Image series from the Shadowline imprint called Peter Panzerfaust. It’s a World War 2 story about a group of French orphans fighting Nazi’s alongside the French Resistance.  Sort of Red Dawn infused with the Peter Pan mythology.

I also have another Image title called Grim Leaper which should come out in March, it’s a Black Romantic Comedy.

C!TB: Sir, that is racist, and we will not have it on the site

KW:  I’m a controversial guy.

Keep an eye out for all of Kurtis’ upcoming work – and don’t hesitate to catch up on Green Wake right now. The first arc is now available in trade paperback, and the first issue of the second arc is on the stands now (and still available to order from Diamond).

Go out and get these now.

Interview: Kelly Sue DeConnick

Warning: She WILL cut you.
Photo by Doug Hesse

Interview: Kelly Sue DeConnick

Just who is Kelly Sue DeConnick?

She writes comics!  Great ones!  Like Sif and Rescue one-shots, or her Osborn: Evil Incarcerated miniseries!  This week brings the end of her three-issue arc on Supergirl, and on September 28th Castle: Richard Storm’s Deadly Storm, based on the wonderful TV series Castle and co-written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Lan Medina, will be released.  Order it now!

Besides writing comics, she used to translate manga into English!  All of a sudden, I have the urge to read over a dozen volumes of a basketball manga series!

She’s married!  To fellow comics writer Matt Fraction!  They have two children!

Back in July, she raised a metric poopload of money for an awesome cause: Women for Women International’s programs in the Congo!

But enough exclamation points, it’s time for QUESTIONS.

01. SUMMER READING LISTS

C!TB: What are your favourite things you’re reading these days?  It can be anything – books, comics, magazines, etc.

Kelly Sue:  Nonfiction-wise, I’m reading Mercury 13 and Promised the Moon, both about the women of the early astronaut program.  Excellent, excellent, heartbreaking story.  Mercury 13 is particularly well-written.

And I just got an Amazon gift card that I think I’m going to use for the kindle edition of Mind in the Making – a book my son’s school recommends.

Comics-wise, I’m reading Guggenheim and Chaykin’s Blade run—loving the structure.  I think I was six issues or so in before I saw the big picture.  Disciplined crafting—and holy shit, the covers!  What else?  Making my way through the Dr. Strange essentials in preparation for Fraction’s Defenders…which, by the by, is going to blow the top of your head clean off.  Let’s see… right here on my desk today is Jen Van Meter’s Cinnamon: El Ciclo—a title I would not even know about had John Siuntres not mentioned it during our last Wordballoon interview.  I’m hoping to start that today.

I just picked up some American Vampire and Batman Detective because I’ve heard really good things about Scott Snyder.  Really looking forward to those.

What else have I got laying about here… Jon Hickman’s Red Wing (which didn’t really hook me until the last page of the first issue, but once he got me, he got me good), Emma Rios & Nick Spencer’s Cloak & Dagger—which is PAINFUL for me to read, because I’m so crazy about Emma and I seethe with jealousy that she’s working with Nick… who I’m sure is lovely, but I kind of want to get hit by a bus, in the way that you wish horrible fates on your girlfriend’s new boyfriends.  Lucky for Nick, John Boehner and my own karma, I don’t happen to be psychokinetic, so I can give in to my baser instincts a little without actually risking anyone’s neck.

I wish I was reading a novel right now, but I haven’t had time.  I have an ARC of Maria Dahvana Headley’s Queen of Kings by my bed that I haven’t gotten to read yet and the book is already out!  What fun is an ARC if the book is out, I ask you??

Every once in a while I stroke it lovingly.

C!TB: I totally understand the ARC thing; I got an ARC of Alice Bradley & Eden Kennedy’s humour book Let’s Panic About Babies!: How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant Who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain, and Finally Turn You into a Worthwhile Human Being and so far it just sits on the shelf (on top of a Saved By the Bell comic Brandon found me).  It taunts me, though every time I have a chance to pick it up, it sends me into fits of laughter.  I absolutely recommend it, even if that’s just adding to your pile.

Kelly Sue: I love the title!  Have you read Happiest Baby on the Block?  I highly recommend that one if you’ve got an infant.  Though, honestly, you can just rent the DVD and get all the fundamentals.

C!TB: Neither of us at C!TB have children – I follow Alice Bradley’s writing, which is how I found her book – but I’m sure some of our readers are or will be soon, so I’m happy to pass it along!  Recently, I’ve been digging into A Game of Thrones on friends’ recommendations.  Have you checked out Grant Morrison’s Supergods yet?  I keep it on my desk at home to spur me to read faster so I can get to it.  The blurbs and excerpts I’ve read so far definitely make it sound like it’s a must-read for anyone who wants to talk about superhero comics ever again.

Kelly Sue: I haven’t read Supergods.  My favorite excerpt I’ve run across is the one about how a “prolific and popular comics writer could make the same amount [$20,000] in a week.”

Bless his heart, Mr. Morrison lives in a very different universe from ANYONE else I know… Except maybe Neil Gaiman.  Who could absolutely bring in that sum in a week, but wouldn’t do it writing comics.

02. SUPERHEROES, BRIEFLY

C!TB: Your take on Norman Osborn was one that we don’t see as often as we do his more supervillainous side.  How did you approach the character?

Kelly Sue: Carefully and from behind…?

Sorry.  That was awful.

Um… hm.  I’m not sure I know how to answer that question.  I guess I thought I was writing the same Osborn that Bendis wrote, the same Osborn that Ellis wrote in Thunderbolts…?  That was my intention anyway. If it didn’t work, I don’t want to know.

C!TB: Oh, it absolutely worked.  The Osborn you wrote is definitely identifiable as the same Osborn that Bendis and Ellis wrote.  I don’t know if it was your dialogue, the setting (no superheroes), Emma’s genius art, or a combination thereof, though, but this was the first incarnation of the character that absolutely truly scared me.  And kudos for that!

Kelly Sue: Aw, thanks man.  That warms my heart…which makes me a weirdo, I think.  But still.

C!TB: From Osborn, you went to something quite tonally different with Supergirl, which is so lovingly indebted to 80s teen movies.  What would “Kelly Sue’s Must Watch 80s Teen Movie Extravaganza” consist of?

Kelly Sue: Ohhhh, hm. Probably the same movies as everyone else, but let’s go… Off the top of my head, in no particular order, some of which are not really teen movies…

  • The Last Starfighter
  • Tremors
  • Goonies
  • Real Genius
  • Night of the Comet
  • Who’s that Girl?
  • Pretty in Pink
  • Heathers
  • The Lost Boys
  • Some Kind of Wonderful
  • Adventures in Babysitting
  • The Hidden
  • The Princess Bride

C!TB: I’m especially glad to see The Princess Bride on there!  It’s definitely one of my favourite movies, which makes it even more maddening that my office hires an intern every year and I’m just going into a third year sharing an office with a university student who either doesn’t it like or hasn’t seen it.    One didn’t even know who Peter Falk and Columbo were!

Kelly Sue: WHAT?!

Have you seen Wings of Desire?  (Most pretentious thing I’ve said today, btw.  Course it’s only 11:40 am here, so there’s still time.)

C!TB: I haven’t seen Wings of Desire yet, but seeing as how I have seen the Goo Goo Dolls’ video for “Iris,” which was on the soundtrack for the English-language adaptation City of Angels, I feel like I’ve seen the original already.

Kelly Sue: I… I… I…

C!TB: Now that I’ve given you a minor stroke, I’ll alleviate your worries of being pretentious by giving an even worse example: in university, I wrote not one but two papers about Disney fairy tale movies, including one where I compared the narrative structure of Aladdin to that of the original story in The Thousand and One Nights, complete with some Michel Foucault and Northrop Frye literary theory.  I also wrote on noir cinematography and detective pulp conceits, but that was just fun.  Ah, the life of a liberal arts student.  I’ll have to check out the few on your list that I haven’t seen.

Kelly Sue: So jealous.  I went the fine arts route. (I did audit a class on the cultural construction of the vampire, taught by a guy named Gudni, who was white as snow and wore black turtlenecks every day… in Texas.) Which ones haven’t you seen?

C!TB: On your list, I think I’ve seen everything except Night of the Comet, Some Kind of Wonderful and The Hidden.  

Kelly Sue: Man, I hope The Hidden holds up.  Here’s the opening car chase.

C!TB: Some of the others like Who’s That Girl? are far back in my metaphorical rear view mirror, but I remember seeing them way back in the mists of time.  Growing up in the 90s, however, has gifted me with a deep and abiding love for any kind of teen comedy from that era, from Empire Records to Can’t Hardly Wait (common thread?  Ethan Embry) with 10 Things I Hate About You making it just before the decade’s clock rolled over.

Kelly Sue: I had to look Embry up on IMDB.  (Sorry.)  You know he was on a TV series called Fear Itself?

C!TB: I didn’t!  Considering my deep and abiding love of both Embry and Marvel’s blockbuster summer event, I’m calling that kismet.

Back to Supergirl, how much did the recent authors’ storylines for the series impact how you pitched your arc?  

Kelly Sue: A good bit, I guess.  I was mostly trying to find a way to stay true to the established character and at the same time distinguish myself from what had already been done.

03. CASTLES IN THE SKY

C!TB: You’ve mentioned that Brian Bendis wrote the first 30 pages of the Castle/Derrick Storm OGN and you did the scripting for the rest of the book from Brian’s plan.  How much freedom did you have in the parts of the book you scripted?  What was (or still is) the back-and-forth and editing process of that like?

Kelly Sue: Brian was really great and gave me tons of freedom.  Maybe he’ll regret it when the book comes out, but for the most part, he read my pages as I turned them in and okay’d them.

C!TB: Does one of you “lead” the art review process or is it a team effort?

Kelly Sue: Because of some scheduling hijinks, I didn’t actually see pages as they came in–I’m not sure if Brian did either.  Long story, but that was handled on this book by our fabulous and capable editors.

C!TB: Is it different at all writing a favourite comic book property than it is a TV property?  What are other dream properties – TV, comics or other – you’d like to tackle some day?

Kelly Sue: Modesty Blaise.  But that’s the dream of me and half the universe.  The half that doesn’t want to write James Bond, I think.

And I’m not sure it was any different, honestly.  I guess… I had an actor solidly in my head, but… I’m not sure that made a real difference in the writing process.

The only thing that was really any different for me process-wise between, say, Castle and Osborn, was that I was trying to be an active student of Brian’s for Castle.  So, like, there’s a two page spread where I’m clearly aping his style.  And I am not as comfortable with internal monologue caption boxes as Brian is, so I had to consciously choose to use them so it didn’t seem like Storm’s inner voice suddenly went must after page 30.

C!TB: Did you learn anything specifically from being a student of Brian’s?

Kelly Sue: He is a master of the double-page spread and I am a chicken shit.  Does that qualify as a lesson?

C!TB: Of course!  Looking at other writers’ work and being ashamed of your own is simply a fact of life, or at least I’m telling myself that to save my own ego.  It’s like that Ira Glass quote that’s going around these days about how persistence and art consumption/taste are basically the only ways you become any good.

Kelly Sue: Is the Ira Glass thing going around?  Is there, like, a recording or a written piece?  [Ed Note: Yes, there isI had coffee with Wil Wheaton on Monday and he told me about it (Can we just stop here for a moment and acknowledge what a name-dropper I am? Yeah… I had coffee with my buddy Wil on Monday… If the Wings of Desire bit didn’t make you hate me, that ought to do it.) — I don’t remember how we got to it.  Something about… I dunno… beginner’s mind, maybe?  I think we were talking about strengths and weaknesses in our own work and the patience and perspective it takes to just trust that you’ll improve and… not be content with with where you are exactly, but not to waste too much energy lamenting it.  I guess being content with where you are in your evolution isn’t such a bad way of phrasing it.

Anyway, I was saying that I’d written more than ten thousand pages of manga adaptation dialogue before I got my first American comics gig.  So I’m pretty confident in my ability to craft dialogue.  I’ve put ten thousand pages in that pit, you know? And then I think Wil told me about Ira Glass and “the gap,” which is, I gather, the same idea, only less ham-fisted in its articulation.

I should google it, huh?

My pacing and plotting gaps still hunger for pages, I’m afraid.

C!TB: Care to tell the Derrick Storm actor you had in your head, or would you prefer to keep that private so it doesn’t influence readers’ impressions while reading?

Kelly Sue: Nathan Fillion!  C’mon.

C!TB: I’m kicking myself over not immediately thinking of that.  I’m really hoping something like that comes up in the series, as a fun meta joke.  I can’t remember, but I think you’ve said before (maybe on Word Balloon) that the comic itself will come up in the series.  Will it be credited on-air to you and Brian?  Will you be involved in anything past the actual making of the comic or will that be it?

Kelly Sue: Not me.  I think Brian might have a thing happening, but I’m certain I shouldn’t expound on that.

05. WHEREIN EYES ARE THREATENED, BUT WITH A GOOD REASON

C!TB: With so much being said about DC’s relaunch, its lacking of female creators & other issues of gender and diversity, we’re trying to take positive approach.  What can readers do to affect change?

Kelly Sue: I love you dearly.  Truly, I do.  i like your website, your twitter feed and your sense of humor.  I believe that you want to help.  I adore you for wanting to be positive.

But if anyone else asks me about being a woman in the comic industry this week I’m going to pop their eyes out with a heroin spoon.

Don’t make me take your eyes, James.  They’re beautiful eyes.  Let’s leave them right where they belong.

C!TB: Absolutely understood!  I’m definitely trying to keep my remaining working eye (long story), so I’ll do my best not to deserve the spoon.  I definitely understand not wanting to talk about it more for the time being, so my apologies for not guessing that before I asked.

Kelly Sue: You only have one working eye?!  Well now I feel like a heel for threatening the other.

Are you actually blind in one eye?  My friend Jane is blind in one eye–she was born with one blue eye and one brown.  She’s like a gorgeous version of David Bowie… though, honestly, David Bowie is a gorgeous version of David Bowie, isn’t he?

Anyway.  Your eye is safe.  In the future I will threaten your thumbs or something.

(Really, I just… it’s complicated, right?  Diversity needs to be discussed.  But not, right now, by me.)

C!TB: I am actually blind in one eye.  Childhood, “mild” hit to the head, partially detached retina, glaucoma, yadda yadda yadda.  Long story short, my tennis game is not particularly good for much other than my opponent’s laughs.  I didn’t get any of the cool Bowie-ness, sadly.

Kelly Sue: Let’s just pretend you’re Odin. Wait, does that work if you still have the eye?

You might have to cough up the eye.

04. JAMES AND KELLY SUE’S MEALTIME VARIETY HOUR

C!TB: What is your workday like?  Do you and Matt both work from home or in the same office?

Kelly Sue: We both work from home but we have separate offices.

Summer schedule:

I get up with the kids, generally around 6:30/7:00.  We hang out until around 9, when the sitter arrives.  When Fraction wakes up varies wildly, depending on when he went to bed.  Once Beth arrives I, take my coffee and go down to my desk.  If it’s a good, orderly week, I have blocks of time chopped out for various projects, if it’s not, I’m in panic mode. I usually start with email and try to set a time limit for myself so I don’t get stuck.

At 5pm, we knock off, send Beth home and play with the kids.  I usually make dinner.  After dinner, we have some family time (hello, dance party!) then Fraction gives them their baths while I clean the kitchen.  Story time, then bed. I go to sleep with the kids, Fraction goes back to work.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

C!TB: What dishes have you been enjoying cooking lately?  I’ve recently been dipping my toes into the world of pan-seared meats and homemade ice cream.  Last weekend I made a saskatoon berry chutney without a recipe that really surprised me with how good it was.

Kelly Sue: I love you for saying saskatoon.

Let’s see… I made some blueberry frozen yogurt and coconut crumble the other day.  That was pretty great.  I just a few minutes ago put some chicken breasts in the crock pot with onion, garlic, sweet potatoes, cilantro, ginger, coconut milk and broth.  I was just kind of throwing stuff in… no idea if this’ll turn out.  We might be ordering pizza–who knows?

(My confidence is waning a bit because I made some marshmallows over the weekend that weren’t very good.  And I took them to a party where a couple of teenaged girls tried to hide that they were throwing away the ones they’d bitten.  I wanted to chase after them and explain that I’d used the wrong pot and I couldn’t get the sugar to the right temp without it boiling over, consequently they were on too long too low… I came to my senses and decided just to live with the failure.)

C!TB: Don’t feel bad, I wouldn’t even attempt marshmallows; recipes always make them sound so finicky.  I’m scared of making/ruining candy in general – I really only make orangettes at Christmastime, since it’s only moderately easy to set my apartment on fire while candying orange peels.  Candy making is not for me and I admire you for even trying.

Kelly Sue: Given my recent failure, you’re not going to believe me when I say this, but they’re not that hard.

C!TB: I don’t!  Truthfully, I stick to savoury dishes more than sweet ones; I’ll make galettes now and again, or a pavlova with some jam, but roasts, savoury tarts, biscuits and vegetables (I make a mean layered ratatouille) are my wheelhouse.  I also made pea pesto for the last time last night, which I am bragging about because I spent too long shucking peas last night to not be at least a little proud of myself.

Kelly Sue: Oh, I hear you.  Have you ever made anything with fresh fava beans? They’re awesome, but you have to peel them TWICE.

C!TB:  I haven’t, and I don’t mean to point fingers, but you might have ensured I never do.  Actually, I’m really looking forward to making that lamb recipe that was in Casanova and posting the process and results as an article on the site when Avaritia comes out, under the CASANOVANAUTS banner.

Kelly Sue: Sweet.  Did you submit a letter for the new letters column?  You totally should.

C!TB: It’s been sitting open on my home computer for a few days now.  It might be a tad unseemly to just write, in all caps, “THANK YOU YOUR COMIC IT HAS BEEN A MASSIVE INFLUENCE ON ME I RECOMMEND IT TO EVERYONE I CAN,” you know?  I’ll figure something out.

Kelly Sue: Matt and I used to cook together more.  I miss that.  We should do that again.  With the kids, one of us is on baby duty while the other one is preparing the meal – save for once or twice a year when we make a Timpano.  The last two of those have been rushed though.

Wahwah.  Look at me with my beautiful happy family and dream job!  Don’t you feel sorry for me that we don’t get to cook together like we used to??

::sad trombones::

05. SHIT GETS SERIOUS, GUYS

C!TB: Some creators have mentioned that having children has had a big effect on their writing, in terms of the projects they take and how they tackle the actual subject matter – like gender and violence.  Have you noticed this with yourself?

Kelly Sue: It’s certainly affected what media I consume.  I used to love salacious violence–true crime crap.  Guilty pleasure.  I can’t stomach it anymore. And I get pissed when people use violence against animals or children (or rape) as a lazy writing device.  I did it myself once (I killed a dog to show that a villain was Really Bad) and I haaaate myself for it. It’s shit writing and there’s no excuse.

C!TB: I had a similar experience with crime procedural shows.  I spent two years working at an inpatient treatment program for convicted sex offenders and, while I learned all sorts of incredible skills and things about my own capabilities, it pretty much took away my ability to enjoy any true crime or crime procedural and absolutely destroyed my ability to stomach any kind of fictionalized sexual violence.  I never liked it, but now Law & Order: SVU will send me out of a room faster than anything.   

Kelly Sue: Oh… oh my god.

Holy shit.

I simultaneously want to pick your brain and beg you to never tell me a single thing.  Are you… okay?  Jesus.

I kind want to feed you spaghetti now.

C!TB: Don’t worry, I’m okay.  It’s definitely an intense work environment and they actually hired me afterwards to design some research on what kind of effects (“vicarious traumatization”) those environments could potentially have, but the combination of tremendous and supportive coworkers, necessary black humour and a long commute home really helped.  It was a great experience working there, but a few years of no longer having to hear firsthand descriptions of some of the worst things people can do to one another has definitely been good.  But yeah, needless to say, there are a lot of TV shows and movies that have become off-limits for me.  

Should you ever have any questions, feel free to ask me; I’ll answer as much as I am legally allowed to divulge.  And I’ll always accept spaghetti.

Kelly Sue: Okay.

Can I mail spaghetti?

06. I AM NOT TOO PROUD TO BEG, PEOPLE

C!TB: You’ve said a dream project of yours is a 70s-style revenge western comic done with Emma Rios.  First, please make this happen, we want to buy this.  

Kelly Sue: Well… okay.

07. WHEREIN C!TB GETS A NEW FAMILY, I AM HOLDING YOU TO THAT, KELLY SUE

C!TB: Finally, a C!TB tradition: Will you adopt us?

Kelly Sue: Yes. But you have to share a room.

C!TB: I call top bunk.

XX. THE PART WHERE YOU BUY THINGS

Wasn’t that great?  Talking to Kelly Sue was definitely just about the best thing this site has ever led to me doing, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to run around the office pumping my fists in the air for a minute.

While I’m doing that, check out Kelly Sue’s author page at Amazon.ca (Americans, go here ; Europeans?  Work for it) and buy everything you can.  Just clean them out.  Should you want to empty the shelves at a physical store, visit your local comic book shop and remember to ask them to save you a copy of Castle: Richard Castle’s Deadly Storm on September 28th.

This isn’t an option.

Interview: Scott Kurtz

Wouldn't you kiss those lips?

Interview: Scott Kurtz

One of the creators that we had a chance to talk to on the weekend was Scott Kurtz.  Scott is a true pioneer in the field of webcomics; his strip, PVP (Player Vs. Player) began in 1998 and, 13 years later, has grown and evolved to be one of the most successful webcomics in the business.  He is the co-author of the book How to Make Webcomics and, with Kris Straub, creator of Starslip Crisis and Chainsaw Suit, he makes Blaminations, which air on Penny Arcade TV.

Until July 8, 2011, you can pre-order a signed DVD copy of the first season of Scott and Kris’ Blaminations, complete with bonus features, including three bonus Blam Knights episodes, commentary from Scott and Kris on each episode, video of the duo’s live panel from PAX East 2011, and The Alliday single “Scott’s Song”, and that’s not even to mention the crazy awesome, limited edition map of Rivenshire, which is totally a thing you should watch the Blaminations to learn about.  Basically, this is an embarrassment of riches, and I can’t believe you haven’t ordered it yet.  Why haven’t you?  Come on!

Our conversation with Scott was a lot of fun, ranging from the current Canada Post strike [Ed note: Yes, really] to digital comics and the Reuben Awards.  Scott’s role as one of the primogenitors of webcomics means that he has a lot of useful insights about the medium, and we were lucky enough to talk to him quickly about that and more.

James: So how’s Calgary treating you?

Scott: Oh man, the show was insane!  I mean, like, I sold out at eleven on Saturday morning!

J!TB: Yeah!  I got here at noon yesterday, and I was thinking, I’m going to buy a bunch of your books!

Scott: Nope.

J!TB: And they were all gone!

Scott: I did not bring near enough.  Completely underestimated how much to bring.

J!TB: Once the postal strike is over, I’ll have to order a bunch of stuff from your store.

Scott: Yeah, what is up with that?

Brandon: Uh… shenanigans.  It doesn’t really happen that often, but when they do…

J!TB: They might be getting back to work legislation this week, though.

Scott: There was an airline strike, right?

B!TB: Yeah.

Scott: And then a mail strike?

B!TB: Yes.

J!TB: Mmm-hmm.  And the airline strike used to be our national airline that we owned.  It was an odd week: one crown corporation and an old crown corporation both go on strike.

Scott: Oh, wow.

J!TB: And then Vancouver rioted.

Scott: Yeah… that’s really…  that doesn’t count, that’s just a bunch of assholes.

B!TB: That’s a bunch of people fucked up on hockey, that’s what that is.

Scott: Yeah.

J!TB: So how has the move to Seattle treated you?

Scott: I love it in Seattle.  It’s an amazing city, I wish I had moved there earlier.

J!TB: I’ve only been there twice, but I really liked it.  I went there for PAX 09 and another time just for fun.

Scott: Yeah, PAX is great!

J!TB: So what kind of things are you reading right now?  Like, comics, books, anything.

Scott: What comics, books or anything am I reading right now?  I’m not reading anything right now actually on a regular basis, I’m not picking up current titles. I haven’t been to a comic book shop in a long time.  I’m reading mostly online stuff.  And I’ve kind of been reading novels again, so I’ve been really into A Song of Fire and Ice, I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin stuff.

J!TB: I recently had Patrick Rothfuss recommended to me.

Scott: Yeah, The Name of the Wind, I need to read that.  [Mike] Krahulik [of Penny Arcade] loves that.

J!TB: It’s great.  I’m about halfway through it and I’m loving it.  But speaking of reading a lot of things digitally, you’ve long talked about digital comics being just as important as print ones,

Scott: Sure.

J!TB: So what do you think about the big announcement from DC, that they’ll be publishing everything digital day-and-date?

Scott: I think they’re completely different animals, I think that for the comic book companies, that digital is a secondary market, and for us it’s our main form of monetization, so they look at it – and have to look at it – completely different from the way we look at things.  They are making comics and then remonetizing them, so I think it’s really smart.  I think the trick is going to be them letting go of having to help the retailers.

B!TB: Yes.

J!TB: Yeah.

Scott: Because I think that’s going to doom everybody.

B!TB: Everyone was asking why the price point, and the moment that they can make it work otherwise, they’re going to drop the prices, and they’re still going to do $1.99, which I don’t think is right either, but the moment that they can make it work without kind of the retail numbers being so important to them, they’re going to do it.

Scott: Yeah, they’re going to.  They’re going to have to.  So I think that’s going to stall things for a while.

J!TB: So I heard you went to the Reuben Awards recently, what was that like?

Scott: Yeah!  It was amazing, we had a really good time.  The NCS [National Cartoonists Society] is really open to learning about webcomics and how they work, and that kind of monetization, because their main business model is dying off.  And pretty much all the cartoonists there are just really excited and open that webcomics are comic in, and it was really good.  And it was fun to meet all my heroes and stuff!

J!TB: I know Bill Amend [of Fox Trot] is pretty big on digital comics.

Scott: Oh yeah, Bill gets it.  Bill has no problem understanding it.

J!TB: I liked seeing that as soon as he went to digital production, you could see the shift in his work a little bit; some of those references became a little more obscure, a little more nerdy.

Scott: Yeah.

J!TB: And so now I read Fox Trot and think, Yessssss, I have loved you since I was a kid and now I love you even more.

Scott: Yeah, Bill is in a position where he can take a couple more chances these days.

J!TB: Definitely.  Well, thank you very much!

Scott: Yeah, no problem!

J!TB: And, of course, our customary final question: will you adopt us?

Scott: Will I adopt you?

B!TB: Yes.

J!TB: We’re willing to relocate.

Scott: Um… alright.  I don’t have any kids.  I hope you like dogs, we’ve got two.

J!TB: Of course!

Scott: Alright, we’ll adopt you.

B!TB: Hooray!

Thanks again to Papa Scott for taking the time to talk to us and for agreeing to adopt us, thus ending our gruelling daylong search for comics parents.

Interview: Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen

Before we got there, there were many more books for sale.  We fixed that.
Photo courtesy of Kris Twyman, via http://immonen.ca

Interview: Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen

Over the weekend at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, Brandon and James had the great fortune to be able to talk with husband and wife writer/artist team Kathryn and Stuart Immonen.  The resulting conversation was absolutely wonderful, with constant laughter and wild gesturing.  It ranged from Patsy Walker: Hellcat to Ernest Hemingway, to Hemingway! The Musical and back to Patsy Walker: Hellcat, who stars in it.  Somewhere in the middle, we talked about the pair’s upcoming graphic novel, Russian Olive to Red King, as well as a certain Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock film about a time traveling mailbox.

Assume that everybody involved was constantly laughing, and join us as the RECORD button finally got pushed, a minute or two into a discussion about planets.

James: The industry should be dedicated towards more Patsy Walker: Hellcat.

Kathryn: That’s what I think!

Stuart: Yes!

Kathryn: If there should be crossovers, they should be with Patsy Walker: Hellcat.

Stuart: It should be Patsy Planet; all super heroes resemble her in some way.

Kathryn: That’s right.

J!TB: The Patsyverse!

Stuart: Yes!

Brandon: We need to get Axel Alonso on the phone.

Stuart: Yes!

B!TB: Because we’ve got a crackerjack idea for him.

Kathryn: That sounds like a winner.

J!TB: So what is your favourite thing that you’re reading right now?  Books, comics…

[Stuart signs an autograph for a fan, apologizes.]

Kathryn: What is on the bedside table right now?  Oh, it’s Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, which is the most lovely and beguiling story.  But really, you know, comics right now, it’s for work.  It’s one of the unpleasant side effects of working for Marvel or for any of them.  The amount of reading you have to do kind of eclipses the reading that you might want to do.

J!TB: Whatever brings you joy, I mean that’s what we’re about at Comics! The Blog: things we like.

Kathryn: I like Hemingway… I like Hemingway!

B!TB: There you go, that’s what we needed to know.

Kathryn: He’s an okay writer, right?

Stuart: I think he’s going to go places!

Kathryn: I think that too.  He’s got potential.

Stuart: He’d fight you to prove it.

B!TB: That would be fantastic, I would love that story.

Kathryn: Apparently he wasn’t that good of a boxer.  It was all a lot of bluster, not a lot of technique.

J!TB: But a story about Ernest Hemingway, the failed boxer?  That sounds wonderful.

Kathryn: Well, didn’t they do a movie that was about the fight – the so-called fight – between Hemingway and… on come on… help me out…

J!TB: It wasn’t Faulkner… I know they had an odd, occasionally–

Kathryn: I think it was in Toronto, and they were in the ring, and it’s like… aw, I can’t remember who it was.  I don’t think it happened the way he talked about it.

Innocent bystander: Wasn’t it called Fighting Hemingway?

Kathryn: I think it might have been.  That was a very longwinded answer.

B!TB: No worries, this is exactly the thing we’re interested in.

J!TB: So what kind of things are you working on right now?  That you can obviously talk about?

Kathryn: Yeah, you know, I hate that so much.  People online say, “Aw, I wish I could talk about-“ Oh, shut up.  If you can’t talk about it, then don’t talk about it.  “Look at me!”

B!TB: “You know, this thing’s coming, and it’s–“

Stuart: Oh, look at you!

Kathryn: “–It’s just fantastic, but I can’t!  I wish I could tell you!”

Stuart: “–Way too important.”

Kathryn: “It’s way too top secret.”  I am right at the beginning of working on something that’s just one issue, I can’t, It’s not… whatever.  So I can’t tell you, but what’s happening is that in the fall, Stuart and I are taking a little break, hopefully, to work on our next book together, so it gets a little–

Stuart: Not hopefully, definitely.

Kathryn: Yeah.  Definitely.

J!TB: It’s a working vacation.

Kathryn: Yeah. So, it’s Russian Olive to Red King and that’s really the next thing on our list of things to do.

Stuart: Actually, it’s already been scripted, and I did the first 20 or so pages in pencil form, and then I started Fear Itself and had to put it aside, but it’s always been sort of in the back of our minds that we had to find time to do it.  And then, you know, I got the email from Tom Brevoort, who’s the editor on Fear Itself, just a few weeks ago, saying, “Oh, we’ve got something in mind for you,” which of course I can’t talk about.  But it won’t start until later on in the year, maybe in 2012, and I said, “Well, that sounds perfect, because I want to do this other thing.”  It all works out.

J!TB: So would this project you’re working on together be something like, will it be serialized like Moving Pictures or will it be a book that people buy?

Kathryn: A book that people will buy.

B!TB: It’s true.

J!TB: We’re going to force people to on the site.

Kathryn: Nice! When we serialized Moving Pictures, it was not really because we wanted to do a webcomic, it was just because we needed a way to have a deadline in between all the Marvel stuff to make sure that it happened.  As a result, it took three years, which is a very long time, so this book will take three months and then it should be basically done, so it could be out sometime next year.

Stuart: Well, that’s a little bit optimistic; we don’t even have a publisher yet lined up for it, but the same way that Moving Pictures was completed before we shopped it around to different interested parties, Russian Olive to Red King is going to be completely done before we ask anybody to look at it.  And that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for the editorial process, because we’re very keen on that, we’re very keen on getting some fresh eyes to look at the material and tell us where, you know, we might have gone astray from the original idea.

Kathryn: And where we forgot to have a car chase and a gunfight.

Stuart: We deviated.  But at the same time, we’re very much aware that publishers at every level in the industry are really interested in having complete works that they don’t have to wait on before they can decide whether it’s good for them or not.

J!TB: Any word on what Russian Olive to Red King will be about?

Stuart: I’ll let Kathryn handle that.

Kathryn: It’s a scorcher.  It’s basically a love story.  It’s about loss, I guess.  It’s wrapped up in a delicious package that looks like a ghost story.  It’s two parallel narratives: it’s about a man and a woman, and they are together, but in this story he’s at home, experiencing writer’s block and also a lot of personal trauma, and she’s just been in a plane crash in Northern Ontario, which she may or may not have survived.  It’s uncertain, it becomes more clear as you go along that at one point she may have actually died, and it may not be until the end.  So it has all the hallmarks of a love story.

Stuart: A love story in which the two main characters never interact with each other at all.

J!TB: Oh, The Lake House!

Kathryn: Oh god!  Yes!  It’s like The Lake House-meets–

Stuart:The Time Traveller’s Wife.

Kathryn: Oh my god, I’m sorry–

J!TB: That’s the pull quote!

Kathryn: Oh dear… talk about a beguiling tale.  Inspired by Hemingway, and then she fights a marlin… and Faulkner.

Stuart: That sounds like a Patsy Walker story.

J!TB: She’s already fought Oppenheimers. [Ed note: in Heralds #1]

Kathryn: That’s right!  I am so happy.

B!TB: That happened!

Stuart: Punch that fish on the nose!

Kathryn: That’s right!  Patsy Walker fights Hemingway.  That’s where we’re going with this one.  Nice!  Patsy Walker is Hemingway: The MusicalHemingway, exclamation point!

B!TB: Exclamation point, exactly! I would see that!

Kathryn: Dancing fish?

B!TB: Yeah yeah!

Kathryn: Awesome!

Stuart: They won’t be able to capture the physical element of this conversation. [Ed note: it was incredible]

Kathryn: That’s right! Bracket, dancing, close bracket!

B!TB: No worries.

Kathryn: Oh my god.

B!TB: That was fantastic.

J!TB: And now our customary final question at Comics! The Blog: will you adopt us?

Kathryn: Well, do you know what?  Andy Belanger, Kill Shakespeare artist, has already asked, so you’ll have to get in line.

Stuart: We have one slot available.

Kathryn: That’s right.

Stuart: And he took it up, earlier on, just earlier this weekend.

Kathryn: If only you’d gotten here a little bit sooner.

B!TB: Well, I guess that’s fair enough, because then we would have had to fight and that would have been bad.

Stuart: Yeah.

Kathryn: That’s right, unless you know–

Stuart: –Unless there were marlins involved.

B!TB: Exactly.  We were not prepared.

Stuart: Waterproof boxing.

B!TB: Awesome!  Thank you very much.

Stuart: You’re welcome.  Thank you!

Kathryn: I’ve gotta find a way to add Wolverine to it, that way it’ll sell.

This was maybe the greatest day ever.  Thank you to both Kathryn and Stuart for their time and for being much, much funnier than us.

Interview: Gail Simone

ALL HAIL GAIL.

Interview: Gail Simone

This last weekend, C!TB attended the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, the largest event of its kind in Western Canada.  One of the highlights was meeting one of C!TB‘s favourite creators, the esteemed Gail Simone.  Gail is known for her work on DeadpoolBirds of Prey and Secret Six, as well as being one of the leaders in creating and advocating a diverse comics industry.  Gail was generous enough to take time from her busy convention schedule to talk about the DC relaunch (where she’s writing Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and collaborating with Ethan Van Sciver on The Fury of Firestorm), the opportunities presented by digital comics, and being told she’d never make a living as a writer.

James: So, any big news recently?

Gail Simone: Are you kidding me?  Everything new is happening, are you kidding me?  Coming out in September is Batgirl #1 with Barbara Gordon as Batgirl again, and also I’m working on The Fury of Firestorm with Ethan Van Sciver and Yildiray Cinar, I’m very excited about both projects.

Brandon: I may have gotten my facts confused, but Wildstorm is in a wheelchair, right?

G: Wildstorm is in a wheelchair, what? [Laughs]

B!TB: Firestorm is in a wheelchair, I mean.

G: [Laughs] No.  You’re… you’re confused.

J!TB: So how do you write Babs differently as Batgirl than you would as Oracle?  Is there a different psychology to it that you’re finding?

G: I don’t want to say too much to answer that question because a lot of that is definitely story elements that we want to reveal as the reader’s reading it.  She’s still Barbara Gordon, she’s still very much the smart, compassionate, take no crap and kick ass kind of character, just like she was in or out of the wheelchair.  There’s a different take on it, it’s all very positive and I feel there’s changes in her that will effect her psychologically a little bit, yes, and we’ll reveal that as we’re going through the story bits at a time how she’s feeling about being Batgirl again.

B!TB: So at the comic store that I work at, for the past few weeks, whereas people in comics to a certain extent will talk comics, when a person goes to the comic store that’s where they have to talk

G: Right, exactly.

B!TB: So for the last two weeks, a lot of what I find is when I’ve told people about Batgirl, because it is one of the bigger things in the relaunch, is I find first they’re a little, like, “No, no, no,” but actually, when they hear that you’re writing it, they kind of step back and go, “…I will read that.”

G: [Laughs] That is very flattering and great that people will have that kind of trust and I’m hoping that I’m honouring that when they read the work, because we all worked really hard on it, it’s an absolutely stunningly gorgeous book.  One of the things we’re seeing is true joy in it and I’m having a lot of fun writing a character that’s just so full of joy even though there may be some bad things going on, so I’m really enjoying that and every panel that Ardian [Syaf] turns in is just a joy.  He’s so good with facial expressions and action and the designing of the costumes and the new villains, it’s just all very exciting.

J!TB: Our big site ethos is talk about what we like, and so we like finding the joy in comics so I’m really glad to hear that, because there’s a lot of joy and that it’s fun.

G: There is.  I mean, not to say there won’t be things other than joy.

J!TB: [Laughs] It’s all going to be rainbows and sprinkles.

G: [Laughs] Of course! Because it’s a girl book, right?

J!TB: Yeah! [Ed note: No.]

G: The art that they showed yesterday here at the convention for the first time, just a full page of her in the new Batgirl suit, and it’s just so beautiful and so, you could just feel the exhilaration when you looked at that page, that she must be feeling, being able to do that, so I’m excited for people to see the rest.

J!TB: Is it a difficult situation?  I mean, there are verystrong opinions on both sides with Babs returning as Batgirl.

G: I don’t know if I would call it difficult, because I certainly understand everyone’s concerns.  I was concerned about it as well.  I went back and forth on whether this was a good idea and I would not have agreed to it if I did not think that it was a positive thing, that I could hopefully handle it well and do everything justice.  There has been a strong reaction and that is such a compliment to all of the people who have worked on Birds of Prey and written Oracle in the past, how she has just really become such a large part of the DCU, and I’m excited about that idea as well, and I think with what we’re doing with the new Batgirl, with her as Batgirl, is every bit as exciting.

B!TB: A lot of people have been skipping over the Firestorm of it all, which makes us sad, because I have a feeling that book is going to be great.  Ethan Van Sciver is not a person known a lot for writing, but how does that sort of collaboration work out?

G: First of all, don’t be afraid to pick this book up.  This book is something completely different.  It has Ethan’s energy; probably the closest thing I can relate it to is the very first issues of Green Lantern with Geoff Johns and Ethan.  The stories are huge, large scoping stories that build and build and build, and the way that the project is working is that I turned down the project quite a few times [Laughs] and Ethan literally kept saying, “Gail, no, this is going to be awesome, you have to do this, you have to write it, no, this is going to be awesome.”  I was, “No, I don’t want to, I have nothing to say about this character,” and I can’t write a book if I don’t feel like I have something anything to say or something new to add or something, you know?  And he just kept saying, “No, it’s going to be awesome,” and so finally, he just talked to me enough and I really respect his work and his ideas enough that I finally sit down and listened.  It just sparked all these ideas and he and I went back and forth quite a while and put together a pitch.  He’s co-plotting and doing the covers and kind of looking at the art as it comes in – which has all been fantastic – and I’ve been scripting and also co-plotting.

J!TB: That’s really cool!  I know I didn’t really know a lot about Firestorm before Blackest Day. [Ed note: Let’s just pretend this was a deliberate portmanteau, how about?]

G: Right, and you don’t have to start with this, either.

J!TB: And that’s the good part about the relaunch.  There are DC books that I pick up, but there are a lot I don’t, and now I’m looking at the 52 titles and thinking, oh man, I am going to be poor.

G: [Laughs] That’s a good sign.

B!TB: Yeah, mostly because I am going to sell them all to him.

G: We’re all going to be eating spaghetti for months now and nothing else.

B!TB: Living the high life.

J!TB: So what’s your take on, say, the digital side of the announcement?  That’s one thing that I think – I mean, I’m very interested in it and I’ve written about it a few times for the site – but people kind of talked about it that first day or two and then once the announcements and the solicits happened, nobody talked about the digital part of it.

G: I think that’s probably just because of who’s talking loudest on the internet, might not be talking about the digital part.  I think a lot of people are really excited about it, the creators are excited about it, and I’m excited about the fact that we have this opportunity now, that we can read an audience, that’s not to take away from our local comic book stores or anything like that.  There’s a lot of places that don’t have a comic book store, my hometown didn’t have one until very recently, and so we don’t have access to the comics or we can only go to the comic book store – because this one is an hour and a half away – I can only go every once in a while.  Sometimes when I got there the new cool stuff that I didn’t know was going to be cool was sold out.  So, if something is sold out, you can get it.  If you don’t have access to it regularly, you can get it.  You can get back issues that aren’t available.  I think that a lot of new readers are so used to reading things via computer, and the way video gaming works, that I think it gives us a great opportunity as creators and readers to put more content out.  Like, maybe you are reading along and maybe a story that’s taken place previously is mentioned but you didn’t read that; you could have a little link to that story if you’re interested, or we could tell you more about the city of Gotham or more about Lois Lane, her background.  By pushing at different things you can get deeper into the story and deeper into the characters, and I’m excited by that and I think that stuff that’s come out digitally on the DC app on the iPad in particular, which is what I have, is amazing.  I think that Welcome to Tranquility in particular looks great on the iPad because it’s got different art styles and panel arrangements, and it just looks gorgeous on the iPad.  So I’m excited about that too, and I know a lot of artists I’ve talked to are pretty excited about the possibilities of what they can do digitally as well.

J!TB: I know Tim Seeley has done Double Feature on the iPad.

G: Right!

J!TB: That was so much of a revelation, with the commentary and the different stages of the art.  That’s something that you used to get if you got the hardcover deluxe version of something, and now I can see that and it’s wonderful.

G: Yeah! I think it’s great.

B!TB: From the retailer’s standpoint, I get a lot of people coming up asking about it, as to like, “Oh, are you worried?  Is everything going to collapse around you?”  I think there’s always that thing in, let’s just say our heads – in nerds’ heads – that’s just like, “I like this so much, I need it.  I need it to take up space in my life.”  Which is what the collections are for.

G: Yeah, and not only that, but to hold it, to interact with it.  Some people are not as comfortable doing that digitally as they are with an actual paper cover, and each thing… I see the art come in in stages; I see the pencils, and then I see the inks, and then it’s the colour.  Well, at each stage it changes, and it’s still fantastic at each stage clear on up to the final project, and no matter if we’re seeing it digitally or on paper, it’s still going to be great and worth seeing, but it’s not going to be exactly the same.  I think if people really love that tactile experience with the paper and the ink and everything and the collecting, they’re not going to give up and just go straight to digital.  I think people are going to use it more as a supplement, per se, and then maybe some of the younger crowd, that’s how they’ll get their comics.  But I feel it will all still get people to try things that they wouldn’t try normally and then maybe come to the store and buy more of it–

B!TB: Yes!

G: –I really think it’s going to have those kinds of effects.

J!TB: I’m interested in seeing what happens with the combo packs.

G: Yeah, I’m interested too, I think it’s going to be well received.

B!TB: It’s… a bit of a tricky situation, because I know on the one hand it’s sort of, well, now you have your comic and you can go read your digital copy, but it’s very interesting to try and figure out what to order, from an ordering standpoint too, because I guess we can order a whole bunch of the regular copies, but does it really, do you order 50 of the bonus packs?

G: Right, and you’d have to talk to somebody more experienced with the comics retailing that I am to help you through that, but I think if people really love something, they’re going to buy a hard copy of it and keep it in good condition and I think they’re going to buy a digital copy with them to carry around and read on the train or the bus or wherever.

B!TB: I’ve had one customer, just be like, “Well, it looks like I’m done,” but that was to be expected.  He’s very into, like, he gets his Silver Age collections, those big expensive hardcovers, and he gets the series that he’s been collecting.

G: These things are still going to happen, guys.  These products are still going to be available.  I don’t think we’re cutting back those types of things at all.

B!TB: And for that one customer that we’ve had, six of seven people will be like, “Well, I need to have half the DC comic books.”

G: [Laughs] I’m so sorry, guys.  Not really.

B!TB: It’s a balance.  We lost 8 monthly books [from that customer] and gained like… this. [Ed. Note: Brandon’s hand gesture here is too much to show on the internet.] It’s a fantastic market opportunity to go around to the community and be like, “Hey, if you like your Batmen, here’s a new #1 issue of Batman.”  It’s everything, across the board.

G: I agree, and I also think that making stuff available, like I said, if you happen to go into a comic book store and you see Issue #4 of something that looks great, and you pick it up and you like it, and maybe your comic book store is sold out of 1, 2 and 3, then they can go back digitally and be caught up story-wise.  I think that it’s going to be used a lot of ways and I’m excited to see how in a year where we’re at.

J!TB: I know you started off, as you refer to it, as a depraved hairdresser–

G: [Laughs]

J!TB: –How did you move to working in the comics industry?

G: I actually came to a point in my life where I felt like I needed something a little bit more creative.  Hairdressing is very creative and I loved being a hairdresser, but I had aspired to be a writer and possibly a screenwriter or actress – I was really involved in theatre – and then, you know, I had to eat, for one thing, and I was always told growing up that I’d never make a living writing, so I got way sidetracked.  I just got to that point in my life where I was like, “Whoa, I need something more creative, what can I do?” and I started listing things.  “Well, I certainly can’t draw, I’m not a sculptress, I don’t really sew,” you know, I went through all these things that I can’t do and, “Oh, I used to write, I wonder if I can still do that?”  Also, at that same time, we were having comic book chat rooms and like I said we didn’t have a comic book store in my small town, nobody to talk to about comics, so I was going on the chat rooms and I was writing these weird little parody pieces that people thought were funny.  They started circulating, and then that led to a column that I had weekly on CBR called “You’ll All Be Sorry!”  I wrote that weekly, and that just caught a lot of people’s attention, a lot of editors’ attention.

The first professional comics work I did was for The Simpsons #50, and then I did Killer Princesses and Deadpool and then shortly after that I started writing Birds of Prey at DC.  And I had my salon for the first probably 5 or 6 years of my writing career; I’d cut back one day at the salon and add more writing, and then another day, and then eventually… because I was told I couldn’t make a living writing all my life, so I was terrified because I made a living as a hairdresser.  So eventually, it just got to a point where I was having to cancel people, I was getting so many phone calls in the middle of doing hair, I was having opportunities to travel, and it just seemed like… and then I was offered an exclusive contract for a decent length of time, and I decided, “If I’m ever going to try to make a living writing, now is the time to do it.”

J!TB: We have one more question: will you adopt us?

G: [Laughs] I’ve adopted the whole comics community, what are you talking about?

J!TB: Well, thanks!

G: I’m not wealthy enough to leave you a big inheritance, so if that’s what you’re going for, sorry.

J!TB: We write about comics for free on the internet…

G: [Laughs] Yeah…

C!TB would like to thank Gail for taking the time to talk with us and for being just as awesome as we always hoped she would be.  It was a delight and an honour.

Interview: Marian Call

Marian Call: Real Alaskan Girl, at least to this Canadian

By James Leask

Please throw money at her in exchange for art.  No coins.
Photo by Brian Adams, http://baphotos.com

00. Avocado lover, word nerd, typewriter percussionist

 

Marian Call laughs a lot.  Now, that wouldn’t normally be a really big thing per se, but after something like her 49 > 50 Tour (“I call it the 49-50 Tour, but 49>50 is my little math joke in there”), where she drove across and played in all 50 states and most Canadian provinces, I’m genuinely impressed.  I fall asleep on the couch around 5 nights a week after a hard few hours of being an Internet Grumpus, and I’m legitimately impressed by Call’s ability to drive for 7 months, charm one last audience and then sit down for an interview without once resorting to anything resembling an excuse for the exhaustion that I certainly wouldn’t begrudge her.

Call was in Edmonton on her way home after the lengthy tour, filling a local comic book store with a crowd of fans, eager to spend an evening listening to great songs from someone who makes jokes like, “I’m the anti-diva.  It’s like matter and anti-matter.  If I see another soprano, she disappears.”  She’s funny and charming, she sings songs inspired by sci-fi shows and you should absolutely buy every single one of her albums right now or we’re not friends anymore.

Afterward, she and I sat down to talk about her tour and a successful 2010, as well as her writing process, the power of Twitter and what to expect from her next album, Something Fierce, due sometime soon.

…….

01. The 49>50 Tour

C!TB: So, what was the idea for the 49>50 tour?  Alaska was the 49th state, right?

 

Marian: Yeah, Alaska was the 49th state and Hawaii is last, too, so that gives it a special symbolism because Hawaii’s the 50th state, so, “49-50.”  [Call finished the tour with a winter show in Hawaii.] The reason for the tour, it was two things: One was I just wasn’t getting a lot of purchase with fans, I wasn’t getting traction booking my shows, and I require a lot of fan help to book shows. I can’t come to a city if one or two people don’t help me out, and I just wasn’t getting a lot of feedback.  People will tell me, “Come to our city!” and that’s great, I just need one person to help me set up a show in that city because I don’t live there.  And it just wasn’t happening, so I wasn’t kind of getting anywhere, and I was trying to think of how to reframe it or how to make it fit, and I kind of drew a little doodle on the map and I thought, You know what?  I could hit all 50 if I really drive.  It was my first time that I wanted to hit the Midwest and the East Coast, and I knew I would hit the West and the West Coast because I always do, and that I could hit all 50, and I just ran it by Twitter to see what they would say, and the response was tremendous, and I thought, Okay, this is how I’m going to do it.

C!TB: I think everyone kind of likes the idea of their favourite musician coming to their town.

Marian: Well, I was coming there anyway, like, I was already on trajectory to hit all these places, but I think it made it register for people, “She’s coming to play near me!” and I was like, Well, that was the point, originally, before I did the 50 states thing, but it registered for them, I think, when I said “50 states.”  And people got excited.

C!TB: What do you miss out on when you’re on the road for 7 months at a time?

Marian: The psychological toll is pretty high, actually.  It’s rough.  Familiarity, even in the most basic sense.  Like, you’ve never been in a place you’ve been and you’ve never met the people you’re seeing, sometimes I’ll go 3 or 4 weeks without seeing someone I know, or I’ve ever seen before, even, which is pretty intense.  That’s hard, and when you’re traveling, you go to Europe for a week, you know, you might at least get to know your neighborhood or your barista or the clerk at your grocery store or the people at your hotel; you at least have something familiar.  And in this kind of tour I have had very little of that, it’s very weird when I stay in a place 2 or 3 days, it’s not very often I get to do that, so that’s been hard.  I also don’t get to do nearly as much touristy stuff as I would like to do.  There’s just so much work and so much driving and it’s such a speed, that people are like, “Oh, you really need to see this about my town,” and then I get all excited because I want to see it, but I can’t.  I don’t have the time.  Hopefully in the future.

C!TB: So how do you stay sane, then; it’s really draining, kind of disorienting, like, how do you stay you on the road, really?

Marian: [Laughs] Well, Twitter helps.  Twitter helps a lot, actually, because I have some people I know there.  They say that the hardest moments of being alone are when you see something awesome and have no-one to stare it with, you know?  And I have Twitter to share it with, so that really helps, actually, helps me process things.  The other thing I guess would probably be good music.

02. Straight-up road trippin’

 

C!TB: What are your favourite memories that stick out from the last seven months?

Marian: Oh my… there’s a few.  Well, I’m going to collect my thoughts, hopefully, in Hawaii.  I’ve been taking little notes most places I’ve gone, I’ve slacked a little bit lately, but hopefully I’ll pick it up again.  I just have these vivid images; when you say a state, a name of any state, I have this vivid image pop into my head now.  All of these places are real to me.  And that’s really, really different.  New Orleans was a revelation.  It was amazing, I’d never been.  New York was fantastic and I feel like I got a very deep sense of the New York Experience including how difficult it is.  New Jersey?  Beautiful, once you get off the turnpike and out of Newark.  It’s gorgeous to be out in rural New Jersey.   It was beautiful.  Seeing the leaves changing all over New England was amazing, actually.  Getting poured on in Portland, Maine.  Having a huge turnout in Minneapolis at one of my first shows, which was really, totally unexpected.  We had a ton of people and it was an amazing show.  Scrambling to get 5 or 6 people to a show other days and feeling very lucky if we did [Laughs].  People’s generosity everywhere.  So many awesome things, it’s hard to pick a few.

C!TB: How did your views of, say, Canada or the US change as you were going through it?

Marian: Well, it’s funny as I was never very interested in the US.  I was never very interested in my own country, I was much more curious about places abroad and about Alaska, because Alaska’s interesting, let’s face it.  But I was much more interested in other countries than the US.  Now I find myself suddenly going all over the US, and it gave me a very deep impression of how diverse it is and how deeply people everywhere kind of want the same things.  Sort of what a mess we’re in; the dual impression was how beautiful the people are everywhere and at the same time how completely unsustainable our lifestyle is in every respect.  Canada has been fantastic, I only grew up basically seeing Vancouver and Victoria of Canada, that was my only impression of Canada until I started driving the ALCAN, and driving the ALCAN, I got more of a feel for kind of rural, out-on-the-road Canada than any of the big cities.  Now, I have been to all of the largest metro areas in Canada; I haven’t hit the Maritimes yet.

C!TB: Neither have I, and I’m Canadian, so…

Marian: Yeah, exactly.  It’s interesting to me, a lot more Canadians that I’ve met – it could just me who I’ve met – but fewer Canadians that I’ve met have gone on monstrous road trips all across their own country.  I found that people in Ontario kind of stay in Ontario or visit the States, and then people in the Prairie Provinces sometimes go to other cities, but I met a lot more people here than anywhere else who hadn’t really left.  And people in Vancouver would kind of fly elsewhere – they’d fly to Europe or they’d fly to the US or go down the west coast, but a lot of them had never been to anywhere except maybe Toronto.

It was just interesting to me because the US has such a road tripping culture, among young people especially, this is why I noticed it, we hop in the car and go places, it’s what you do [Laughs].  It was different.  But no, I really, really enjoyed the deeper view of Canada.  I want to get into Quebec more, definitely, it’s fascinating.  Montreal was fabulous.

03. w00tstock, Thinkgeek

 

C!TB: So how did you get involved with things like W00tstock or Thinkgeek?

Marian: [Laughs] That was awesome!  Great show.  Thinkgeek and w00tstock both got in touch with me, actually.  W00tstock, I was just in Austin, TX and I got a phone call from Paul of Paul and Storm asking me if I wanted to do w00tstock, and I was like, “Are… you… serious?  Are you sure you have the right number?”  I told him, “I don’t have that many fans, I really don’t, I’m not a known performer,” and they said, “Yes, but you are the most recommended person we’ve ever had, so clearly you have the right fans.”  And I like that verdict.  I love my fans; they are the right fans.  And Thinkgeek, I was actually complaining at them because there was a Crest of Hyrule shirt that I really wanted in a women’s cut because I don’t wear men’s cut t-shirts, and they didn’t have it and couldn’t make it, and they were sorry.  We had a few tweets back and forth about it, they were sorry they couldn’t get it made, and I was like, “Oh, that’s OK, I’m gonna buy one anyway and get it tailored.”  Which I am.  But then a couple weeks later, they got in touch with me when I was looking for something in the DC area and just said, “Hey, you want to play at Thinkgeek?” and I was like, “Of course I want to play at Thinkgeek, how could I not?”  Both of those really came about because the Browncoats have been so supportive.  I mean, there have been a lot of supportive geeks along the way, but the Browncoats particularly have been really supportive, and followers of Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, both of those groups have probably been the most instrumental.

04. Albums, y’all!

 

C!TB: So I know a lot of your songs are about things like Battlestar Galactica or Firefly, and (a) that’s awesome, and (b) how did that kind of start?  Was that kind of a conscious decision or something that naturally happened?

Marian: The first couple sort of naturally happened.  I wrote them two songs for a contest about Saffron from Firefly.  I just tend to sneak in references from other things.  The lexicons of various series will get stuck in my mind and come out in my songs.  I just let it come out, along with a lot of other references like Shakespeare or Neruda or T.S. Eliot.  Then Quantum Mechanix heard this – they make cool licensed props from a few series – and they heard some of my songs and they actually commissioned a bunch more [Call’s second album, Got to Fly], so the reason I started to write more was really because they asked me to.  But it turns out to be really fun, I take a lot of inspiration from fiction, I think it’s natural to see great art and want to make more art, you know?  Make art in response.  And it was easy for me.

C!TB: So after a commissioned album like Got to Fly, what will Something Fierce be like?

Marian: I hope people aren’t disappointed, it’s a little less overtly geeky, but it’s definitely still geeky.  I’ve been on kind of a NASA kick so there’s a lot of astronomy stuff in it.  It’s a two-part project, and one of them – the shorter album – is going to be about Alaska, a lot of stuff about Alaska.  Some humorous, some very serious, and the thing that carries through is that there’s a lot of literary geek stuff.  I love to play with words, and there’s a lot of bizarre rhyme schemes and meters and tricks I’m trying to play with words.  Music geeks will get a kick out of it too, but then I think regular geeks will like it as well as long as they’re not expecting it to be the same as my commissioned album, you know, it’s a very clever, very left brain, kind of educated sound, and I think that most of my fans  – most that I’ve talked to thus far anyway – enjoy that kind of stuff as well as the sort of franchise-oriented.

05. The Donors’ Circle and patronage

 

C!TB: So, do things like the Donors’ Circle [Call’s “Zombie Cheerleader” initiative to help  fund her business] play a role in how you write songs, or how you make an album?

 

Marian: Absolutely.  The Donors’ Circle is everything about how I make an album.  They’re an amazing bunch of people.   First of all, they take us back to the patronage system, which I really believe in, because the patronage system allowed an artist to do what they do, but it also puts the burden on the artist to keep doing a good job or they lose their patronage.  It keeps the burden on the artist to produce high quality work.

C!TB: Isn’t patronage the original system?

 

Marian: Absolutely.  Patronage and  localized community-based, like having a village fiddler.  And the community is supporting him because he’s the village fiddler.  I think people are scrambling to find all sorts of different ways to fund new albums.  I feel like the patronage system is really just the most honest without going into debt.  I feel like these people believe in my work or they wouldn’t have, you know, I never begged them to put money up, they voluntarily did.  They believe in my work enough to hope the next one’s going to be good and they’ve made it possible for me to record this far without having to go into debt, which is really a big deal, because I have crippling debt right now, and I can’t accrue any more, and this will help a lot.

06. This is a blog about comics.  It’s Comics! The Blog!

 

C!TB: You mentioned earlier that you’ve got some favourite series you’re trying to catch up on.

Marian: Oh, I’m very new to the comics universe, and I probably started with what some people would say are typical girl comics, but I just think they’re typical good comics.  I’ve read Fables and Y: The Last Man.  I’m behind on Fables now.  I’ve started Astro City, and I’ve started Scott Pilgrim because that was my favorite movie in the universe.  I love it.  What else have I got?  I’ve been reading some Alan Moore.  I read Watchmen, of course, and then I’ve started to read a couple other of his series.  And Umbrella Academy is amazing and I really want more of it.

C!TB: It came out of nowhere.

Marian: It’s so incredible!

C!TB: I knew him as the member of the band I didn’t really like, and [Brandon] just said, “You are going to read this.”  It was the first thing he ever told me to read, and I was like, What is this?  I want more!  And I came back the next day and bought the next book.

Marian: Yeah, it’s fantastic.  What else did I just start… Morning Glories!  I like it, that promises to be really exciting. Honestly, I feel like I grew up without the classic superhero or DC/Marvel hero universes, I didn’t really grow up with that, except, well, probably Batman.

C!TB: Everybody grew up with Batman, it’s that weird cultural mythology.

Marian: Yeah, and Batman has really gotten deeper into the psyche of the United States, and Canada, and Superman too.  They’ve gotten so deeply rooted in our culture, but I grew up not knowing X-Men, not knowing those, and so I kind of want to.  I need to find a friend who has a really good comic collection back home, you know, because I can’t afford to buy all those.  And go read some of the classics, the essential collections so that I have a notion of some of the back catalog of some of these characters.  I really do want to.  You know, I like the X-Men.  I want to know them, but reading with the series that has that long history you can’t just pick up anywhere.  I feel like I have a lot of back reading to do, this will make a nice winter for me, I think.

…….

XX. Outro

Call finished by telling me about being turned into a comic for Geek A Week and the possibility of being on a beer (“There’s a beer coming out in Anchorage that someone’s interested in using me as the model for the label and that would be so awesome!  I think it’s going to be a red.  I hope.  We’ll see.”)  It was a pretty damn awesome night.

Man, now I kind of want a Marian Call beer.  Get on that, world.

…….

Visit Marian Call’s website here.

And follow her on Twitter, why not?