There are regular interviews, there are super interviews, but this, most surely, qualifies itself as a mega-interview, because I had the chance recently to talk to no less than eleven creators who are featured in the fourth volume of Image's POPGUN anthology that's currently on shelves. Billed as the "ultimate comics mix-tape" the thick 500-page-or-so volume is a showcase for both new, young talent and an "experiment lab" for more familiar names, like Erik Larsen, whom I interviewed last week. If you have eclectic tastes, like diversity in your comics and love to be surprised, check out the volume at your store and online.
Adam P. Knave & DJ Kirkbride, writers of THE BLACK DECAHEDRON and "THE AGENTS OF THE WTF IN "BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL."
Comic Vine: THE BLACK DECAHEDRON, about pirates stealing math like treasure, reminds me of so many daydreams I myself had while bored in Pre-Calc. Does the inspiration for this short have a similar root? The pun is, of course, intended.
ADAM: I wish it had been that inspired. The truth is a little sillier. D.J. and I had found the work of artist Jason Ibarra and really wanted to work with him. So we approached him and asked what he wanted to draw. Out of this we got, "Geometric shapes and women" -- which makes perfect sense now, but then rocked us back. We sat around and batted ideas back and forth. I know a wonderful singer/songwriter by the name of S.J. Tucker who wrote a song about pirates, and then it all just clicked in one big awesome tea party. If we had female pirates we could nail the women aspect and then make them MATH pirates and well... there you go. Because who doesn't like pirates, at the end of the day, and who wouldn't want a viable excuse as to why they're bad at math?
That is my reason, officially. Math Pirates stole my ability to do math. Not sure if anyone will buy it.
CV: The AGENTS OF THE WTF short in this volume - - “Blue Light Special” - - appears to be one story in a series. Have there been previous adventures of the 300-year-old, bagpipe-playing wizard man-child Dervish McCallahan and alternate-dimension sorceress warrior Princess Anpaytoo? Will there be more?
DJ: The first AGENTS OF THE WTF adventure was a little six-pager in POPGUN 3 called "Would You Like To Dance, Papi?" It just started right in the middle of the action, too, so you don't have to read one to understand the other... you might have to be a little drunk to understand either, but, well, understanding is overrated. These stories are just where Adam and I have fun. It really becomes a competition of making each other laugh, and, thankfully, we've heard that there are others laughing, too. We were so lucky to find Matteo Scalera, whose art is perfect for this to the point that he just adds occasional bits of background wackiness that make it funnier. Our letterer, Thomas Mauer, has gotten into the mix with funny sound fx and bits of fun he puts in there. Coat it all with Antonio Campo's lovely colors and, for "Blue Light Special," Paolo Ferrante's fine inks, and, well, these goofy stories are so, so pretty.
I truly hope there will be more adventures. We have ideas for them and another short already written, but our art team is super in demand, and deservedly so. If the stars align and we're all able to work together again, though, oh yes... there will be more AGENTS OF THE WTF. I want a Dervish action figure some day, dammit.
Anthony Wu, cartoonist of SISTERHOOD OF THE ARMAGEDDON.
CV: Your short, SISTERHOOD OF THE ARMAGEDDON, shows what bizarre forms junk mail and cold calls can take in an equally bizarre fantasy world. Clearly, this is a comic made by a guy who’s met his share of solicitors, so you’ve gotta tell us… what’s the most unbelievable “covert” sales pitch you’ve encountered?
Anthony Wu: My childhood house would get tons of telemarketer calls back when people still used landlines. I had a pretty cute voice so my dad would send me to answer them. Instead of pushing a sale, telemarketers would be a little disarmed from hearing my "I'm sowwy but we'we nowt intewested at the moment" speech and politely excuse themselves.
"Sisterhood" itself is from real-life. It's a condensed account of a series of visits some Jehova's Witnesses made to my dad when he was sick. I was living at home at the time and, like when I was a kid, I had to deal with the salesmen. We didn't want to be proselytized on but for one reason or another, the Witnesses were oblivious to the fact that we weren't interested, and I was too polite to flat-out tell them to go away. I think from a bystander's point of view the visits are a little sad and funny - there was a story in there so I wrote a comic about it.
CV: Speaking a little about your artistic process, the style you use for this short is hard to pin down. It seems to be a hodgepodge of traditional and digital painting, but I couldn’t be certain when reading it. Could you describe your media-of-choice here?
AW: All of the linework is ink, though I use Photoshop to color the lines and give them a cartoony feel. Everything else is digital. Have you seen this anime called "MindGame"? I'd been developing my own way of illustrating well before that anime came out, but when I saw "Mindgame" I realized that Studio 4C had already gone farther into figuring out a style I had been looking for. It's an economical style that can get detailed if it needs to be, and lets me focus on elements I enjoy like color-choice and motion. Studio 4C has gone on to make the TV show "Kemonozume" and the movie adaptation of "Tekkonkinkreet," the manga of which is drawn by one of my favorite black-and-white artists Taiyo Matsumoto.
I also look to the work of Tadahiro Uesugi, Chris Appelhans, and Jon Klassen, who've done a lot of concept-art in movies recently. Their methods are very digital - they really embrace the pixelations and anomalies that turn up in Photoshop, as well as the precision-patterns you can make in the software. People are experimenting with digital these days in the same way that classic illustrators played with salts, varnishes, and paints.
== TEASER ==
Elizabeth Genco, writer of QUEEN OF CUPS.
CV: The Tarot has been a popular source of inspiration in comics like THE INCAL. Your short QUEEN OF CUPS uses the fortune-telling card set to stir up some coffee-shop romance. Were you familiar with the Tarot before this, or was it strictly a matter of story research?
Elizabeth Genco: I've been a Tarot practitioner for over a dozen years, so it tends to creep into just about everything I create in one way or another. And actually, "Queen Of Cups" is based on a true story! A good friend of mine (another reader, natch) was telling me about a reader she knew, who read for a guy who had been juggling multiple women. The ending as it was told to me is more or less what ended up in QoC.
And, of course, Zhara's interpretations are entirely my own (also based on people I know).
CV: I’ve known John Bivens, the artist you worked with, from his Zuda comics THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS and THE AMAZING MR. SIMIAN. How was it to collaborate with him?
EG: Collaborating with Mr. B is a dream! So much so that we have another project in the works, a full-length graphic novel that will be serialized on Tor.com. We also have another short story that is already finished and looking for a home - the only story on love magic I've ever written. (In which said magic goes horribly awry, as love magic often does.)
I appreciate artists like John who I can be straight up with, and who teach me a little something about visual storytelling along the way, because even though I can't draw myself, I am fascinated by visual vocabulary. (Probably something that I pick up from my Tarot practice, come to think of it.)
Plus, he can draw really good, in case you haven't noticed!
JM Ken Niimura, cartoonist of CHASING THE GOLDFISH.
CV: There’s a real dreamy surrealism to your tale of undersea danger, CHASING THE GOLDFISH. Do you find dreams to be a source of inspiration to your work? If so, has you ever dreamed something that was perhaps too strange to put on page?
JM KEN NIIMURA: Although dreams are always a source of inspiration, the long answer would be saying that my mother comes from a seaside city in Spain where I used to go to the beach every summer. I hadn't been to this city for a while at the moment I started drawing this story, and although I've never been a great swimmer, I decided to draw from my persona life to make up for so many summers without beach. There's something very captivating about the freedom of movement you experiment inside the water that's also very attractive graphically speaking. Add to this the interest I have for all things concerning deep sea creatures as well as the great influence Miyazaki's works have had on my work over the years.
As for the short answer, this short story was originally created for a Japanese magazine named "Mandala". Its publisher liked an illustration I had done for a spanish magazine (that depicted people diving) and asked me to create a kind of a continuation of the universe I had developed there.
In a way, it wasn't so much dreams that nurtured this story, but my longing for a nice sunny summer day (which I still haven't enjoyed yet)!
CV: From an artistic perspective, I noticed strong verticals or near-vertical diagonals in your layouts throughout this short. Was that a conscious decision? What’s your philosophy and approach to layouts, in general?
NIIMURA: The fact that this short story was originally done for a Japanese audience made me try some new things in the way I tell the stories. For instance trying to include as fewpanels per page as possible and force myself to add some interest to the story by making a dynamic storytelling and experiment with vertical compositions. These are quite common in Japanese comics (because of their reading) and helped me to portray the idea of deepness, although I hope the readers won't notice all this too much: if there's something I'm concerned about when it comes to drawing, it is trying to make everything as invisible as possible.
I'll only have succeeded if the readers like the story and have read the depth in the art but can't tell why. Personally, I think I've done better short stories script-wise, but I'm really happy about the atmospheres I drew and the storytelling. I hope to keep improving!
Brian Winkeler, writer of BASTARD ROAD.
CV: What struck me the most about your quirky tales of angry lumberjack ladies and a lizard-men/leather-men feud going down in a cursed landscape - - that is, BASTARD ROAD: ELLE HATH FURY and THIS BLUDZ FOR YOU - - was the style of your artists, Dave Curd and Eric Sandhop. With the thick linework and muted (but varied) color palette in both stories, I got a strong sense of rock art. I could easily see these on posters promoting a live show or on t-shirt prints. Is that what their styles are generally like, or was it something you specifically asked for in this story?
Brian Winkeler: The thick-line style and limited post-apocalyptic color palette were developed by Dave Curd (whose background is in commercial illustration) with an eye on creating a signature BASTARD ROAD style that echoed the iconographic vibe of rock art. Dave & I developed BASTARD ROAD initially as an [adult swim]-esque animated series so Dave chose to illustrate the comic stories using a more thick-line, animation character style.
CV: Does Eric's style match Dave's, or did he have to adjust significantly to fit into the Bastard Road world?
BW: Eric Sandhop is an old school chum of Dave's and they've collaborated on projects over the years. Eric's linework is similar to Dave's, and he made sure that his art complemented Dave's established BASTARD ROAD style while also being fully his own. I think he absolutely succeeded.
CV: BASTARD ROAD has seen episodes in previous volumes of POPGUN and, as the last panel of “This Bludz for You” promises, we’re in store for more adventures of Bastard and Farel. In a nutshell, what’s the premise of this episodic story?
BW: BASTARD ROAD is the ongoing tale of ultraviolent amnesiac horndog Bastard and his semi-reluctant traveling companion Farel as they traverse the mutant-ridden wastelands of Nümerica. The mysterious The Master Stuntman is tracking Bastard, possibly as directed by Maximus Gore & The Last Lady - divinely appointed rulers who stage bloody gladiator deathmatches in the Parthagon (the crumbling ruins of the former Pentagon) to choose those who will spread their iron will as Knights of Gore (AKA "Gore-illas").
So far, Bastard & Farel have encountered the knifemaster luchador Hex Mex and Ray Reloada, the Spanish gunfighter, as well as the Deadly Miniachi; the terror of the one-eyed, fire-spitting Huge Black Cock, the asskicking logger Elle Natural and the cold-blooded lizard bounty hunter "Good Baby" Scales.
And there's plenty more adventures in the Bastardverse to come!
Nick Tapalansky and Alex Eckman-Lawn, the writer and artist of RUSTED: FADED SIGNAL
CV: There's an elegiac quality to your short RUSTED: FADED SIGNAL, a tale of discovery in a desperate wasteland of urban decay. Something you'd normally encounter in a gallery art show rather than in the pages of a comic. Were there any statements you wanted to convey through this story, perhaps about the permanence of media (even in the face of disaster) or how context can so radically change a recording's meaning?
Nick Tapalansky: Thanks, Tom – I think elegiac is a pretty good way of looking at it. Those shows were specifically chosen because they reflect not only our main characters emotional spectrum but the world around her, even though they’re at least a century old. They’re relatable, they withstand the test of time, because they’re very human things, these shows. What we really wanted to convey was a sense of reconnection with that humanity. In my mind, looking at the world in Rusted, it’s an extreme version of the trajectory we seem to be on now.
Social media, while certainly having its benefits (I’m guilty of a Twitter account), seems to be breeding a generation of people who might not be comfortable having a verbal conversation with someone, who might not know how to react outside of a status update or without the concealment of an avatar. In Rusted, what little spoken dialogue there is, outside of the radio shows, is limited to 140-character bursts or less. It’s a world that’s been conditioned to limit contact to bits and bytes rather than a hand shake or a kiss, to text messaging instead of a laugh on the phone or, heaven help us, in person. What we want to explore, not just in this short but in others, is what happens to a world, our world, when that buffer we’ve built suddenly disappears.
Alex Eckman-Lawn: Wow, intense answer! The only thing I can think to add is on the way smaller scale of this story, I was thinking of these radio shows as an escape. The other way to look at Rusted, this series of stories, is as a showcase of the different ways that people deal with catastrophe. The girl in our story decides not to accept the world as it is, but to retreat into this idealized past she’s found. I guess the “triumph” of her story is what she chooses to do with what she finds.
CV: You two are, of course, the gruesome twosome behind the "zombie noir" AWAKENING for Archaia. Have you fellas got a collaborative method you've stuck with here, or did you mix your creative process up a bit to go along with POPGUN's spirit of experimentation?
NT: Well, this was definitely a bit of a departure for us, I think. Once we got to the script/art end of things it was business as usual but the planning was definitely a joint effort since unlike Awakening, which I had pretty well mapped out before meeting Alex, this was actually something he brought to me.
The world of Rusted is based on a short story that Alex wrote in college and, early in the development of Awakening, he showed it to me and asked if I thought it was something we could do something with. The original short is, well, honestly it’s pretty amazing. It painted such a vivid picture of a world and I immediately said I wanted in. Whenever we had some free time we’d spit ideas back and forth, finally deciding that we wanted to do an anthology style book of interconnected shorts set in the world. Faded Signal was born of a lot of conversation about the world Alex created and is the first of a number of stories we’d like to do for that book, in addition to an adaptation of the original prose short.
AE: Nick always knows just what to say to make me blush. Yeah, this short is set in the same “world” as that story I wrote, but without Nick it never would have worked as a comic. He’s the script writer here, and he’s the one who took these ideas we kicked around and made them work. He also hand chose the old radio show segments to support the story. Visually this was actually a pretty drastically different approach from Volume One of Awakening. There’s a LOT more traditional drawing with pencil and paper, and I’d like to think it has a distinctly separate look from my other comic work. I actually had a real blast working on this and trying new things out, and I think you should be able to see a lot of that carry over into Volume Two of AWAKENING.
And of course, I am totally psyched to hopefully do more Rusted stories somewhere down the line!
Vito Delsante and Attila Adorjany, writer and artist of THE GOLDEN MANTIS OF CHINA TOWN
CV: Featuring a quirky Kung Fu master getting revenge on some gangsters, your short THE GOLDEN MANTIS OF CHINA TOWN exhibits an obvious love of Hong Kong cinema. You have "subtitles" for the characters' dialogue and even have the Shaw Brothers logo pop up in one panel. What are your favorite flicks from the Far East?
Vito Delsante: First and foremost, I have to tip my hat to Bruce Lee. Enter the Dragon is a huge movie for me, as are Game of Death and Chinese Connection (or Fist of Fury, depending on when you saw it). After that, I have to say Five Deadly Venoms, especially since it influenced the story just a bit with the 7 Dragon Clan that the Golden Mantis goes up against. Being from Staten Island, NY, I have to also cop to an affinity for the Wu-Tang Clan, and listening to their music, you can't help but love Shaolin and the Wu Tang. I grew up in the 70's and 80's in NYC, and we had Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater, so with Golden Mantis, I tried my best to put those memories and that love for the genre into the story. There is a bigger story to be told, so those influences will be seen much later.
Attila Adorjany: For me The big 2 from my childhood where Master Killer aka The 36th Chamber and Enter the dragon. Later on just after High School a Golden Harvest Cinema opened in Toronto's downtown china town (we sort of have 2 china towns) And I went there constantly for double bills and got obsessively into watching everything I could get my hands on from the cult video shops. I got really big into Wuxia classic kung fu Gun fu all of it! All the old Shaw bros films and golden Harvest films especially gordon liu's films (dirty ho rocks!). Even got big into Jackie Chans films like Police story, Armour of God , wheels on Meals(it was miss spelled on the posters) and my Fav. of his films Drunken Master 2 (with the Hong Kong ending) (not counting that he was in Enter the dragon which remains my Fav. of the classics. But yeah I got a little obsessed.
CV: Atilla used an interesting color palette in the comic that evokes the very kind of neon lights you'd see in a crowded China Town. Did Vito envision that from the beginning or was that something Attila brought to the table himself?
VD: That was ALL Attila. He's a very unique artist, and one that I'm appreciative of because he makes such bold choices in his art. You don't have to ask Attila to do these things; he just does them. He sees things in a very complex and unique (there's that word again) way, so when working with him, you can sit back and be prepared to be wowed.
AA: Stuff like the nods to the shaw bros and the golden harvest logos and the Chinese word balloons with English sub-titles ( with some deliberate changes to the Chinese) and the color choices were all little things I do as part of my obsession with film. Vito just let me do my thing which I am grateful for. But I wanted to capture as much as I could in the colors and the minutia. Right down to trying to get the exact right shade of orange/yellow of the subs.
Lars Brown, cartoonist of THE CURSE OF NEPH
CV: Some of your short stories in the past have taken place in the same universe as NORTH WORLD, your "plain-clothes fantasy epic" at Oni. Does this short also take place in that universe? And could you perhaps describe that world in general a little?
Lars Brown: This is a North World story as was my previous entry "Diamond of Khandai" for Popgun 2. In fact they've both been recently collected into North World: Other Sagas from Oni Press (avaliable in finer comic book stores!). I was about halfway through the first North World volume when I did this story and it worked really well in expanding the world. I've been calling North World a modern-day fantasy although lately it seems to be losing some of the modern-day more and more, but I don't think it'll ever be run of the mill fantasy. It's kind of just whatever I want fantasy where people can either become swordsmen or accountants and vikings attack Pizza Hut.
CV: Your cartooning style draws from both Manga and American comics. What artists from both sides of the Pacific have influenced you, and could you comment a bit on how you've reconciled styles from both the East and West into something that's uniquely your own?
LB: When I was in grade school I saw stuff like Akira and Ghost in the Shell when it was first coming out over here and it blew my mind since before that I'd mostly read the Archie comics version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and watched the cartoon. There were only brief moments when I slavishly tried to copy that style before I also got into independent comics through Jeff Smith's Bone. Mostly I've tried to glean the technical details from comics regardless of where they're from. How does this artist put his characters together and how do the characters interact with their surroundings? Or how does the storytelling flow? That said when I was starting out, and even now, Doug TenNapel and Bryan Lee O'Malley's work have been big inspirations, and recently I've been really into One Piece by Eiichiro Oda.
--Tom Pinchuk is the writer of UNIMAGINABLE for Arcana Comics and HYBRID BASTARDS! for Archaia Comics. Watch out for the HYBRID BASTARDS! hardcover collection this March - - available for pre-order now on Amazon.com.