Dangerous Dames of Dark Horse: Katie Moody & Sierra Hahn talk crime
PART I: THE RETURN OF BLACKSAD!
When planning out my week here at Robot 6, I considered writing something about how someone needed to get the rights to Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido’s Blacksad series and not just put the first two volumes back in print so folks could get them at an affordable price, but finally release the third Spanish volume stateside so the fans of the wicked cool crime series could see how it ends at last. Then, lo and behold, Dark Horse Comics announces at Comic Con that they have gotten hold of the series. My prayers were answered! So, instead of writing about my wish for the book, I thought I’d talk to the editor responsible for the new printing, Katie Moody.
JAMIE S. RICH: So, Blacksad had become a bit of a Holy Grail for its fans over the last couple of years. I originally saw the book at Matt Wagner’s house. He had just gotten the sketchbook that had come out from its previous publisher, and it was the first time I had looked at the work closely, I think I had always dismissed it prior. It was then a game of catch-up to actually read it. I eventually tracked down a reasonably priced second volume at a used bookstore, but could only get the first volume from the library–and they had to borrow it from an out-of-town library as the local copy had been stolen. Dark Horse bringing it out is a great boon to comics readers. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came to pass and how you’ll be presenting it?
KATIE MOODY: Blacksad had been on my radar for a few years–I remember seeing the first album’s solicitation in Previews and reading the series after the 2004 Eisner nominations–but I hadn’t been proactive about getting my own copies of the albums. By the time I decided to get it in gear they were already out of print and I was out of luck. (A situation familiar to many by this point.)
Flash forward to last year at the San Diego con, on what has become my annual pilgrimage to Stuart Ng Books’ booth. For those who aren’t familiar, his booth is a veritable Mecca of hard-to-find art books from domestic and foreign markets…the man should be knighted by the comic-art-lovers’ community. So, lo and behold, they had two of the three iBooks albums. I inquired after the third, ended up talking to Mr. Ng himself, and he relayed how the title had been without an English-language publisher since the tragic passing of Byron Preiss, the driving force behind iBooks. After the shock of his death, and iBooks’ subsequent bankruptcy and auction proceedings, the title had been swept along and still remained in limbo. I knew that the work needed to be available in English and that Dark Horse would be a great fit for it, so I immediately asked our man in Licensing to inquire after the title once we returned from the show. But after only a couple days, Juanjo Guarnido independently emailed out of the blue! Stuart Ng had relayed Dark Horse’s interest to him, and–since Juanjo was in a position to sort out English-language deals himself–we were able to start discussions immediately.
The presentation is something that we talked about extensively, and we worked through a number of different format scenarios to see how the numbers would work out. Printing costs are a big obstacle, especially when it comes to oversized full-color books, but it’s a testament to Juanjo’s commitment and passion for the series (to say nothing of his patience!) that we emerged from that months-long process with something that satisfied everyone’s major concerns. It’ll be a hardcover of the same size as the Creepy and Eerie archives, collecting all three European albums published thus far, and with a matte cover finish. This’ll be the first time that the most recent album, Ame Rouge (“Red Soul”), will be available in English.
I’m thrilled. This is a dream project to work on.
Oh, my God. I’m even more excited than ever. That just sounds lovely. Just having read the first two volumes, I can see the character of Blacksad already changing, that the world he lives in is affecting him, and so it will be great to see it as one big book, to follow him from one case to the next and see his development.
Speaking of that, let’s talk some about the appeal of the books. I know it sounds ironic coming from a guy who once edited Usagi Yojimbo, but I actually didn’t pay attention to Blacksad due to the fact that it stars animals. Maybe it’s because I’ve see people do the “adult Disney” thing before, and it’s usually just a gimmick. That’s so not the case here. Like Stan Sakai, or like Art Spiegelman, to name a couple of contemporary “funny animal” cartoonists, Guarnido and writer Juan Diaz Canales use the abstraction for a variety of things. One, it creates a racial and social divide by playing on types but without the baggage of the human analogues, almost allowing the characters in the story to be more human as a result. Two, he also chooses his animals to fit the character. Blacksad is a black cat, so he is predatory, lithe, independent, but also a symbol of bad luck, which is rather funny when you consider private eye tropes.
You are spot on about the freedom to explore social and racial issues they get through this method, and I think that’s one of the (many) reasons why they’ve received such international critical acclaim with Blacksad. Not only is the reader removed from their own personal perspective through the use of animals–whereby racial differences read more metaphorically–but the realism with how the characters relate to one another can then show the absurdity of those prejudices.
So, Blacksad operates on a variety of different levels, since it’s a loving send-up of the noir tradition even while it’s making some social commentary. (It’s amazing how relevant 1950s America becomes in the hands of these two Spanish creators.) It satisfies readers after an enjoyable yarn, those who need more theme or metaphor to sink their teeth into, and aesthetes who just want to pore over Guarnido’s jaw-dropping paintings.
And as you also point out, it has a different flavor than the usual “funny animal” titles. I devoured the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics while growing up, am an ardent fan of Usagi Yojimbo [fist-bump of UY solidarity], and look forward to digging into Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge at some point, which is widely recognized as genius work. So in no way do I think that the visual trope is without fundamental merit. But each of these prominent books follows more of a cartooning tradition, and Guarnido’s realism is ultimately rooted in caricature. What he does in Blacksad transcends anthropomorphism–a boxer is literally a gorilla, a cold-hearted villain is an actual reptile–to the extent that the term “anthropomorphism” itself feels backwards; he’s not giving animals human-like qualities so much as he’s giving his human cast animal-like qualities. (Which would be what, bestepomorphism?) However you want to describe it, the result is creative alchemy, as the title’s “holy grail” popularity can attest.
So, are you a fan of the crime genre? In comics or otherwise?
It’s funny; for as much heartfelt enthusiasm as I have for this title, TV procedurals like Homicide: Life on the Streets, Ed Brubaker’s writing, and the early crime stuff from Bendis, I feel that my general appreciation for the hardboiled genre suffers from poor imitation. So many modern noir send-ups emphasize the macho nature of a male protagonist–an independent loner who is (more often than not) plagued by the presence of an extremely desirable femme fatale. That’s a setup that can work marvelously in talented hands, wherein the characters are fleshed-out and nuanced and their relationships are compelling. Unfortunately, in my experience the stylish scenario often leads to thin stories about a Manly Man who drinks alone a lot while the female characters have little going on besides sex appeal. That’s just not the kind of fiction I’m inclined to seek out.
I clearly need to go back to the source and read some old-school, 1930s Raymond Chandler.
Or read You Have Killed Me. I hear it’s pretty good, and despite at least one blogger’s opinion, I am actually a sissy. Har!
I would say that the great thing about Blacksad is that it’s not really a genre mash-up, but a genre buster. There are so many angles to come at it from. If you are someone who likes the darker side of Disney, the sort of stuff Don Bluth kind of played on when he first broke free, or if you’re someone who likes detective stories, or period pieces, or you just appreciate damn good art, there are so many ways into this material, you don’t have to be predisposed to any of it.
That said, I’m going to ask you a question people keep asking me about Mercer in You Have Killed Me and the role of the P.I. in modern society. Though Blacksad is set in the past, why is he a hero relevant to today?
Gosh, for the same reason that Batman has remained relevant after seventy years: John Blacksad is, above all, acting in the interest of justice. It’s a deeply satisfying pursuit to read about, since we’re in a world where horrible things can happen to decent people and criminals aren’t always caught, much less prosecuted to the full extent of the law. (And sometimes they’re given performance bonuses.) So the notion that the scum of the earth will someday get what’s coming to them is a gratifying one, and Blacksad has more flexibility as a P.I. than a cop would with regard to the law and vigilantism. As an added bonus, that puts him at odds with police, since his extralegal actions always risk arrest.
And yeah, most of my all-time favorite comics defy easy genre categories. Transmetropolitan is technically science-fiction, but it follows a journalist in a busy, near-future, media-saturated city that readers will find familiar. Usagi is primarily adventure, but it’s steeped in history and there’s plenty of drama and humor. Love and Rockets has elements of science-fiction and superheroes woven into the day-to-day lives of its pantheon of characters. It makes sense that Blacksad fits this bill, since any truly complex work is going to defy pigeonholes. I’ve got to say, the enthusiastic fan response to the San Diego Blacksad announcement has been very rewarding.
So, when is this out? Will it have the sketchbook, as well? Anything new?
It’ll hit bookstores in April 2010, or thereabouts. No sketchbook materials in this collection, but hopefully we’ll be able to do something with Juanjo’s amazing behind-the-scenes legwork in a separate collection at some point.
And what, is an entire album not enough “new” for you?
No, I am very demanding. To wrap this up, are there any other books you’re editing similar to Blacksad or that might appeal to the same readership that you want to make mention of?
Similar? Not personally, but Diana Schutz is putting together another of her acclaimed black-and-white anthologies of high-profile creators, and this one’s titled Noir. It’s been in the works for years, so it’s an easy bet that it’ll be well worth checking out.
And speaking of genre-defying comics, that’s the spirit behind a new imprint I’ve been shepherding for Editorial lately: Dark Horse Originals. You’ll be hearing a lot more about it later this year, now that we’ve accrued enough works for critical mass, but it’s an umbrella under which new, hard-to-categorize, stand-alone works will now be found at Dark Horse. The first was a hardcover collection of the acclaimed graphic novel Fluffy, the most recent was the character-driven Pixu, and works by Rick Geary, Larry Marder, Matt Kindt, and Jesse Reklaw, among others, have been in between, with many more to come. There tend to be only a handful of projects like these that we publish in a year and they’re all edited by different people, so it’s been marvelous to finally have a way to refer to them in toto–and in a way that won’t make our Marketing staff throw up their hands in despair.
You know, every time you see a penny in the street, it’s really a marketing man’s tears.
PART II: JANET EVANOVICH, RAFAEL GRAMPÁ, DR. HORRIBLE — SIERRA HAHN KNOWS WHERE THE BODIES ARE
I’ve known Sierra Hahn for a little while now. Most readers will recognize her name as one of the driving editorial forces behind some of Dark Horse’s top comics, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Umbrella Academy, the aforementioned Pixu, and, of course, My Space Dark Horse Presents, the digital age remodeling of the flagship series I had edited for a short while when I was at the Horse. Like Katie, Sierra had several crime-related comics announced at San Diego, and so I took some time to catch up with her regarding those.
JAMIE S. RICH: It was announced just prior to Comic Con that Dark Horse is going to be teaming up with Janet Evanovich. This should be a fairly high profile project, as Janet is a best-selling author whose thrillers are very popular and attract a devoted following. What’s the premise, and what brings her to comics?
SIERRA HAHN: Janet Evanovich grew up reading comics like Little Lulu, and today, as a long time fan of Joss Whedon’s various projects, keeps up on Buffy Season Eight. Her obviously superb reading tastes made it inevitable that Dark Horse would want to work with her should she ever consider a career in comics. Fortunately, she was totally into the idea of working with us, and furthermore, wanted to bring some of her pre-existing characters in the comics world. Next year we’ll be publishing the third book in a series of pre-existing novels based on the misadventures of NASCAR mechanic Alexandra Barnaby, her on-again, off-again love interest, the smashing NASCAR driver, Hooker, and his ginormous St. Bernard, Beans.
That sounds cool, and a totally unique setting for a comic book. I like the idea that a novelist is continuing a successful franchise in comics, much like how Buffy Season Eight is keeping the Whedonverse going. Comics as a natural extension to the existing material, rather than just a place to dump stuff no one else wants. Coincidentally, too, you’re starting to corner the market on crime-tinged comics with motor vehicles. You are helming the reprint of Rafael Grampá‘s Mesmo Delivery, which I read in its self-published form. High-speed truckers and the dangerous stuff they encounter on the road.
Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about, and what his new series Furry Water entails?
One day I’m sittin’ at my desk and John Arcudi calls me and asks if I’ll buy him a copy of this book Mesmo Delivery by this crazy awesome artist that he’s totally stoked on. This was just prior to San Diego Comic Con in 2008. I checked out Rafael Grampá’s blog and was enthralled by his work. It was exciting and full of energy, and I couldn’t wait to meet the guy. I asked Gabriel Bá to introduce me to his artist friend. We met. I kept my cool, and after a few days I asked him to keep in touch and pitch me a series when he was ready. Grampá and I kept in touch for several months, and then finally…he pitched Furry Water, a series that he’s co-writing with Daniel Pellizzari.
Furry Water is a six-issue miniseries that follows the Nobunagas–five outlaw siblings on a mission to fulfill their mother’s dying wish to find their missing brother. The story takes place in a world devastated by a toxic rainfall that kills anything it touches, annihilating most of civilization. Cities are run by a strict military regime set on destroying the rebellious Nobunaga siblings, who are known for their dedication to a strict honor code–the Dalacarpa–and their revolutionary leanings. Furry Water is going to be a massive, powerful, heartbreaking, action-packed adventure. I’m so freakin’ excited!!!
But to backtrack a bit–I really lucked out when I was told that Mesmo Delivery was out of print. I mean, it sucks that it’s out of print, but had I not heard that piece of news (thanks, Mike Allred) I wouldn’t have pestered Grampá about the severe shortage of copies of his book. Turns out he’d only printed a limited number and that Mesmo needed a loving home if it was going to be seen on shelves again. So yeah, that was a no-brainer for me, and Dark Horse will re-publish Mesmo in February.
Mike Allred doesn’t know much, but when he knows something, it’s usually pretty good. Speaking of, crime is all about who you know, who is in your crew, and so are comics, and I remember sitting around at lunch with you and the Allreds and planning future hits on the sequential public at larger, and that was when you set us up with the killer Grampá pin-up we’re running in Madman Atomic Comics #17. You’re also working with Joëlle Jones, who is a crazy good artist and my own Bonnie Parker on You Have Killed Me. The Dr. Horrible one-shot is set for November, yes?
The Dr. Horrible one-shot goes on sale November 18th.
The whole Dr. Horrible writing crew are really psyched to have their very own single-issue comic that gives fans a peek into the life and times of a young Dr. Horrible. I’m a huge fan of Joëlle’s art, and when I recommended her for the project, the writer of the comic, Zack Whedon, was totally wowed and moved by her work. When everyone saw her character designs we all kinda went gaga for Joëlle. She nailed every character brilliantly–their personalities and likenesses. So good.
Now you know what it’s like to be me. Such a rare honor. She knocks my socks off every time. (Much to her chagrin. My feet aren’t pretty.)
What else should folks expect from your editorial docket that might pull a heist on our wallets in the coming months?
In September everyone should start picking up Beasts of Burden by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson. Seriously. EVERYONE. I could get really preachy about this series (I’ll try to contain myself) but I’m just that passionate about the work they’ve done and the world they’ve created. The stories follow this incredible cast of characters that are, yeah, dogs and cats. They form this unit and find themselves involved with all sorts of paranormal mischief. It’s not for the faint of heart, to be honest. Some seriously creepy stuff happens, and some seriously funny stuff happens, too. Each issue feels self-contained, but all four issues create this big, fun world that these amazing little animals get to play around in. Jill Thompson–she’s a phenomenally talented artist. She just won another Eisner for her phenomenal work. Everyone has to read this series. It’s going to blow minds! (I got really preachy, didn’t I?)
Yeah, but I’m used to you trying to tell me what to do. And based on the stories Jill and Evan did in those Dark Horse Book of… horror anthologies, I’m a soft sell on this one. Maybe we can really milk things and have the Beasts meet Blacksad. One of the dogs gets lost, Blacksad has to go look for him…
I’ll have a pitch on your desk by morning!
Special thanks to both Katie and Sierra for taking the time to discuss their editorial docket with me. Tell your local retailer that you want these comics now. Maybe do it when you’re buying You Have Killed Me. Maximize your trip!