Conversing on Comics
Often when comic creators are asked about their dream job, most expect them to respond with a specific character they want to tackle, some fondly remembered superhero on which they hope to leave their mark. Of course, not all comic creators think that way.
Writer and artist Sean Murphy has made a name for himself working on almost everything but superheroes. Instead, he’s made readers take notice with the likes of Punk Rock Jesus and Joe the Barbarian. When he’s done work-for-hire, he’s mostly stayed clear of the usual suspects, with stints on former Vertigo stalwart Hellblazer and a spinoff book for Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque’s American Vampire. His actual superhero output is few and far between, but well worth looking out for — from his Batman/Scarecrow: Year One miniseries to the delayed-but-finally released Teen Titans one-shot.
A great artist can make readers stand up at attention, while a fast artist can make editors’ lives a lot easier. Luckily for fans and publishers alike, Declan Shalvey is both.
Taking the artistic reins on Deadpool in August, Shalvey is in the middle of an epic upward-bound trajectory in comics, drawing books for Marvel and Dark Horse. His career began with a 28 Days Later comic for BOOM! Studios, but fans didn’t really take notice of his work until he began alternating arcs of Thunderbolts with Kev Walker.
Despite its frantic biweekly shipping schedule, Thunderbolts was an ideal showcase for Shalvey’s gritty, textured illustrations (with a bounce reminiscent of emotive newspaper cartoonists). After working on that title, and its successor Dark Avengers, for two years, the Irish artist was tapped to follow after Tony Moore on Venom. But stand back: Shalvey isn’t just a superhero artist. While tackling those comics for Marvel, he also illustrated graphic novel adaptations of Frankenstein and Sweeney Todd for European publishers, and arcs of Vertigo’s Northlanders and Dark Horse’s Conan the Barbarian.
Chris Roberson has been thinking what comic writers are supposed to do in comics. While many creators follow the usual trajectory of creator-owned projects to Marvel or DC, the Portland, Oregon-based writer went from the Big Two and found his true calling, making his own comics and helping others to do the same.
A science fiction author, Roberson was ushered into comics as a colleague and co-writer of Fables creator Bill Willingham. However, Roberson quickly branched out, first with the Vertigo series iZombie, and then as the writer of Superman, putting him in the unenviable position of picking up the pieces after J. Michael Straczynski left midway through his much-heralded run. Although he turned in some great work in his short run on Superman/Batman, Roberson ultimately found DC not the kind of place he wanted to continue working.
To the average comics reader, Joe Casey is the writer behind idiosyncratic creator-owned books like Gødland and Sex and the stellar re-imaginings of corporate-owned superheroes like Wildcats, Superman and the X-Men. But to the pre-teen set, he’s the co-creator of one of the hit kid-friendly animated series Ben 10 and a co-writer of Ultimate Spider-Man and the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers Assemble. With two radically different profiles, the question becomes this: Which is the real Joe Casey? I’d argue it’s both, and more.
Casey got his start in the shifting sands that was Marvel in the late 1990s in the years, filling in on a Wolverine miniseries before quickly stepping in to take over Cable. Much in the same way that character moves back and forth in the time stream, Casey has hopped among titles, genres and companies.
“Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change.” — Frank Lloyd Wright
It’s a telling quote, both for Wright and for Eric Stephenson, who used it on the masthead of the personal blog he wrote from 2010 to 2012. The word arrogance may have its negative connotations, but when practiced in a measured way it exudes confidence and pride in your work. Wright had it. Steve Jobs had it. And Stephenson, as a nearly 20-year veteran of comics publishing, and the public face of Image Comics, has it.
And in recent years, Stephenson has a lot to be prideful about. Image has been experiencing its best years since its initial debut with The Walking Dead, Chew and Saga. It hosted an well-received expo last year, and has successfully wooed some of Marvel and DC’s top talent for a return to creator-owned work. Stephenson, the company’s publisher, also has finally been able to return to his neglected passion for writing with Nowhere Men, a collaboration with artist Nate Bellegarde.
Although best known for his work behind the scenes — he’ll mark his fifth year as publisher of Image in July — Stephenson has written comics for Rob Liefeld’s Maximum Press, Marvel and DC, not to mention his creator-owned titles.
In February we spoke to Nowhere Men artist Nate Bellegarde, and now we turn to Stephenson to discuss the series, and his past work, but also to delve into his publishing duties — specifically, headhunting talent, finding a place for Image in digital comics, and separating the company from the crowd.
Unpredictability. For some people that’s a negative trait, but in comics it can be advantageous.
Justin Gray is unpredictable, in a good way. While some writers fall into the trap of working within one genre or one flavor of story, Gray has quietly created one of the most diverse bibliographies in comics with his frequent collaborator Jimmy Palmiotti. He’s done superheroes for DC Comics and Marvel, including a celebrated run on Power Girl. He’s written a variety of creator-owned work, from the early 21 Down and The Resistance at DC/Wildstorm to more biting, adult fare like Random Acts of Violence and the recently released Sex & Violence. He’s also become an in-demand writer of comic-centric video games, working on DC’s Injustice: Gods Among Us, Mortal Kombat vs. The DC Universe and others.
Oh, yeah, and he and Palmiotti helped to prevent Jonah Hex from becoming a footnote in comics history.
While other writers like Grant Morrison and Brian Michael Bendis might soak up most of the spotlight, Gray is quietly able to jump from one project, genre or medium to the next.
Gail Simone has one of the most personable and idiosyncratic voices in comics. It’s why fans follow her in books like Batgirl, Birds of Prey and Secret Six, and it’s how she broke into the comics industry from being a Comic Book Resources columnist. And 2013 is shaping up to be a big year for Simone with the launch of her creator-owned Leaving Megapolis with Jim Califoire, a new Red Sonja series at Dynamite and The Movement at DC Comics (which she spoke about at length Friday with Comic Book Resources), and continuing on her cathartic run on Batgirl.
I reached out to Simone following the Red Sonja announcement to talk to her about that new book, but also her career in general. Her off-again, on-again time on Batgirl has already been covered ad nauseum, and there’s more to her story than that.
Chris Bachalo is one of the preeminent superhero artists working in comics today, but that’s not what he originally wanted to do. Despite quietly becoming the most prolific X-Men artist of all time, Bachalo got his start in a far different place: Vertigo. As a child and teenager, he actively avoided X-Men comics, and his passions lay instead with more experimental artists like Bill Sienkiewicz and Dave McKean. But now as a 23-year veteran of comics he’s one of Marvel’s top artists.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t prone to experiment.
Hard at work on the eighth issue of Uncanny X-Men, is redefining the franchise’s flagship title with writer Brian Michael Bendis while also planning a themed art book called Giant Robot Destroyer that collects drawings he’s over the years. And yes, he’s also thinking about Steampunk.
In late 2011, when DC Comics relaunched its entire superhero line with the New 52, some characters were completely overhauled while others saw no changes at all. But with the debut last month of Justice League of America’s Vibe, we saw writers Geoff Johns and Andrew Krisberg attempt to transform a D-list character — a comic-book punchline — into a new hero and a force to be reckoned with. The artist tapped to help make that happen was Pete Woods.
Beginning his career in the 1990s an intern at Wildstorm, Woods has quietly become a trusted artist in DC’s stable. He’s had extended runs on Robin and Catwoman, but his most celebrated work came when he partnered with writer Paul Cornell to give Lex Luthor a chance ot shine in Action Comics. Woods recently completed a run on Legion Lost, and split time doing brief stints on Aquaman as well as Marvel’s Avengers Assemble while preparing for his current assignment on Vibe. He’s an artist’s artist, constantly refining his style and innovating in his approach. But he’s also an editor’s artists, consistently meeting deadlines.
I reached out to Woods to talk about his current gig, and discovered he’s in the early days of switching up his style. After years of doing much of his work digitally, Woods decided to return to his roots and draw his pages the traditional way. The computer’s still there for the odd task, but this 17-year comics veteran is going for a fresher, more organic style by doing it all by hand.
Comics are more than just drawing pretty pictures and great muscled physiques. They’re about telling a story, through sequences of images but also through the image itself. And British artist Rian Hughes has spent years figuring out how to tell a story, in sequential art as well as in standalone images, package designs and even fonts.
After bursting onto the comics scene as an artist in Escape and 2000AD, Hughes expanded his skills to become a designer and illustrator for comics in England, Europe and the United States. He went on to design a number of logos and mastheads for DC Comics, Marvel and Valiant, and his work on Wildcats 3.0 and Invincible Iron Man proved to be high-water marks for comic book covers. Image and Knockabout Books recently began reprinting some of Hughes’ early comics work, and this summer will see the release of an artbook chronicling his portraits taken from London’s underworld burlesque scene.
For this week’s “Conversing on Comics,” I spoke with Hughes about his forthcoming art book and other upcoming projects, and received a look at his past work, including a never-before-seen set of designs he created for Invincible Iron Man.
Location, location, location. It’s said those are the three important things when it comes to real estate, and cartoonist Dan Goldman knows that more than just about anyone.
Born in Detroit, raised in Miami and coming of age in New York City, Goldman spent the past few years living in São Paulo, Brazil, before returning late last year to New York. A longtime proponent of digital comics, he was among the founders of Act-I-Vate, and launched his current comic series Red Light Properties in 2010 on the website of book publisher Tor. But recently Goldman decided to hitch his boxcar to a different train when he jumped to upstart digital publisher Monkeybrain Comics to continue his 300-plus page run on that title.
Red Light Properties is all about location (location, location), but in a supernatural sense, as it follows a Miami real estate agency whose specialty is to survey, repair and re-sell distressed homes. But these aren’t your normal condos; they’re possessed by the ghosts of dead former tenants. Jude Tobin, the man behind RLP, is a clairvoyant whose powers only come to life when he’s “under the influence,” so to speak, and his associated family and busniess partner have to deal with his problems while also handling their own. It’s as if William S. Burroughs wrote Ghost Whisperer, but you know, with even more hallucenigenics.
I reached out to Goldman to find out more about this new era for Red Light Properties, but also to get his perspective on being an American cartoonist living with Brazil, and the story that took him there and brought him back.
Have you ever worked with someone who loves what they do so much that it’s infectious? That’s a solid description of Joe Keatinge, who writes Marvel’s Morbius: The Living Vampire, along with Glory and Hell Yeah at Image. He’s also someone with a restless love for comics in all of its forms.
Keatinge has been involved in the business for going on nine years, breaking in as a colorist before segueing to a staff position at Image. which took him from managing the publisher’s inventory to marketing its books. After overseeing the successful PopGun anthology, he shifted into writing comics himself with the double-barreled successes of Hell Yeah and Glory. It’s his work on the latter series that brought him to the attention of Marvel and DC, who enlisted him for Morbius and issues of DC Universe Presents. Through it all, Keatinge has been an outspoken advocate for the medium.
In our interview, Keatinge talks about his place in the industry as well as his far-ranging interests, delving into his creator-owned work (including collaborations with Frank Cho and James Harvey) and breaking down the perceived walls between different areas of comics.
Greg Capullo is one of the hardest-working people in comics. Fans who follow the Batman artist online or meet him at his frequent convention appearances soon discover he’s unrestrained, with boundless energy, carrying a deep appreciation for the fans who buy his comics, the creators he’s worked with and those that paved his way.
For this week’s “Conversing on Comics,” I talked with Capullo about Batman, as well as his career from his days at Marvel to Spawn and his five year-hiatus from comics. Along the way we discover that his grandmother was a Terminator, Scott Snyder is his brother and Todd McFarlane is the Todd Father.
When Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson came up with the idea for Nowhere Men, he knew not just any comic artist could handle the project. Luckily for him, Nate Bellegarde isn’t just any comic artist.
Based in Boston, Bellegarde clawed his way into comics at an early age, making his professional debut at age 16 with a back-up strip in Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s Battle Pope. He continued his association with Kirkman, providing back-ups for early issues of Invincible with Benito Cereno before segueing to their own standalone series with Hector Plasm. Bellegarde kept busy doing the first volume of Tim Seeley’s Loaded Bible before being enlisted by Kirkman for Invincible spinoff books like Brit and Invincible Presents: Atom Eve & Rex Splode. His art had the crisp, clear style of his colleagues Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley, but his linework betrayed a more subversive subtext. Each of his previous projects seemed to capitalize on part of the skill set Bellegarde had been honing over the years, but never quite captured all of it at once — until Nowhere Men.
Mixing the interpersonal conflicts of science projects like The Right Stuff with more esoteric fiction constructs like the best of Franco-Belgian comics (and a side of British Invasion-era music), Nowhere Men is an uncommon, and uncompromising, piece of work. With three issues on stands and the fourth due March 6, I spoke with Bellegarde about Nowhere Men and its role in his pursuit of a life in comics.