Marjorie Liu is the sort of writer other writers envy. We in the comics world know her for her Marvel work, including X-23 and Black Widow and, most prominently, her just-announced gig as writer for Astonishing X-Men, but she has a whole other life as a prose novelist. Her latest books are Within the Flames, the tenth in a series of paranormal romances about shape-shifters, and The Mortal Bone, an urban fantasy novel about a woman whose body is covered with demonic tattoos that come to life. I talked to Marjorie this week about her work in all three genres, and her plans for the near future of the X-Men.
Brigid Alverson: You were writing prose novels before you wrote comics. What sort of adjustments did you have to make to your writing (both style and process) when you moved from one medium to another?
Marjorie Liu: I had two great mentors when I first started: my editor, John Barber, and editorial assistant, Michael Horwitz. Both of them “held my hand” through the process, giving me sample scripts and a lot of wonderful advice. What I found that helped (sometimes, not always) was focusing just on the dialogue. I’d imagine these characters caught in the moment, and write down their conversations. Then, I’d break it into panels.
But yes, it was an adjustment. When I write a novel, I’m responsible for every aspect of storytelling: I have to provide the visuals, all the emotion, through my words. Plus, the story is a lot longer—upward of 100,000 words. Comics are much shorter, and I have a partner-in-crime: the artist, who tells the story through his or her illustrations. It’s such a privilege to participate in that kind of storytelling.
Hello and welcome to a special birthday bash edition of our weekly “What Are You Reading” feature. Typically the Robot 6 crew talks about what books we’ve read recently, but since it’s our anniversary, we thought we’d invite all our friends and colleagues from Comic Book Resources and Comics Should Be Good! to join in the fun.
To see what everyone has been reading, click below …
Back in 2009 writer Van Jensen and artist Dusty Higgins introduced three simple yet brilliant words into the comic book vocabulary–Pinocchio Vampire Slayer. Over the course of the previous two volumes, the little wooden boy and his friends won our hearts–and staked a few along the way–as each lie brought a new weapon to use against Pinocchio’s enemies.
The print version of the final volume, Of Wood and Blood, isn’t due until this summer, but SLG Publishing will release it as a series of digital comics on comiXology and their own website (we managed to get an advance copy, which you can read right now). The first issue is free, while subsequent issues will cost 99 cents.
I caught up with Jensen and Higgins to talk about the third volume, what the series has meant to them and what they plan to do after it’s finished.
JK Parkin: What was going through your heads as you put the finishing touches on this volume? Was it bittersweet, relief, accomplishment … or some combination of all three? Did the fact that this is your last hurrah with these characters make it more difficult to finish?
Van Jensen: It was kind of an emotional conclusion for me, I’ll admit. I didn’t want to say goodbye to any of the characters, even the drunkards in the bar in Rome. Beyond that, this third book is in some ways a long meditation on death (don’t worry, there’s still plenty of humor!), so I think I’d been in a pretty dark mindset for the months that I was writing it. But, as usual, I was mostly excited to see Dusty take my script and bring it to life.
Dusty Higgins: What keeps popping back into my head as I finish these last pages (and I’ve still got a lot to go) is a sense of wonder that three years into this project I’m still working on it. When I first approached Van the with the idea, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be working on a third volume. I’d actually intended to get that first book out and move on to something else, but things happen and the story took on a life of its own. It’s always a bit sad to look at a page and think, that might be the last time I draw that character and there are redshirt vampires I’ve felt that way about, but it’s also a relief knowing soon our foray into Pinocchio’s world will be complete in a way that Van and I are both satisfied with. We didn’t make concessions on the story, we told it the way we wanted to and we’re not dragging it out for the sake of dragging it out. Knowing you have that creative freedom and being able to finish a story the way you feel it should finish… that’s what makes me want to keep doing this.
Writer Van Jensen and artist Dusty Higgins announced in December that the third and final volume of their Pinocchio Vampire Slayer saga, Of Wood and Blood, will begin serialization this month. While the previous volumes were released as graphic novels, volume three will begin life as a digital comic available on comiXology and SLG Publishing’s website before it becomes a real boy, er, book next summer.
SLG plans to post the first and second issues on their site later this week. The first issue will be available for free, and each subsequent issue will be 99 cents. If you don’t want to wait to read the first issue, though, we’ve got you covered — you can read it right here, right now!
Check out Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer: Of Wood and Blood #1 below, and be sure to read the interview I did with Jensen and Higgins.
“And there came a day, a day unlike any other…” Comics is rife with stories of team-ups and alliances formed to solve problems beyond any one member and advance the common good. Such is the story of Press Gang, one of the most intriguing small-press outlets to emerge in the year gone by. Comprising Portland retailer Jason Leivian’s Floating World Comics imprint, cartoonist and editor Zack Soto’s Study Group Comic Books and Elfworld editor François Vigneault’s publishing house Family Style, Press Gang is described on its website simply as “like-minded publishers/packagers banding together.”
Each of its individual members has taken a forward-thinking approach to the work they put out: Leivian’s excellent store has a bold art/comics “house anthology,” the cheekily titled Diamond Comics; Soto teamed with former Comics Journal editor Milo George (with an assist by Bodega Books publisher Randy Chang) to transform his long-running artcomix anthology Studygroup12 into the promising comics/criticism hybrid Study Group Magazine; and Vigneault rescued Elfworld from languishing on original editor Jeffrey Brown’s to-do list, becoming a pioneer of the seemingly ever-widening crossover between alternative comics and fantasy adventures. Any alliance between these three is worth watching very closely.
So to celebrate Robot 6′s third anniversary, I got in touch with each member of the Press Gang triumvirate to ask about the past, present and future of the Gang and their places in it. The big news here is that Soto’s Study Group Comic Books will be absorbing Chang’s Bodega Books now that Chang has officially closed up shop, and will publish Kazimir Strzepek’s highly acclaimed fantasy saga The Mourning Star from now on. And check out oodles of exclusive preview pages from Elfworld #3 and Study Group’s forthcoming sg12.com webcomics portal, launching Jan. 16. But beyond that, there’s Shonen Jump-style phonebook anthologies, the return of old favorites after long hiatuses and, quite literally, magic…
Sean T. Collins: Beyond the fact that Zack works at Jason’s comic shop, Floating World, I know very very little about the origin of Press Gang. How did the three of you hook up?
Zack Soto: I’ve been friends with both Jason and François for several years now. I know François from tabling at APE over the years, and he moved to Portland in the last year or so. Since then, we’ve become pretty good buddies and talk out our projects with each other quite a bit. Jason I’ve known since he opened Floating World, more or less. I went to check out the shop in its first, extremely tiny, space. We’ve been friends ever since, and I guess a year or more ago I started working there a day or two a week. Last year we co-published Studygroup12 #4. I probably talk with these two guys about my crazy ideas and frustrations, and listen to them talk out their ideas, more than any other people besides my wife.
Press Gang came about initially from François and I talking about our various goals as small publishers. We both basically had the same ideas about strength in numbers and what that could mean. Promotionally, it’s as simple as being able to group together some like-minded publisher/packagers at more or less the same level of the industry and bringing all of our small followings to one point. Logistically, one of the obvious strengths is being able to send one or two people to represent the group at a convention and save money. Another benefit is when we have particular skills like silkscreening or risographing or what have you, we give each other sweet deals in our areas of production expertise.
We’re basically modeling ourselves after the Wu-Tang Clan. I like to flatter myself into thinking I’m the GZA but Jason keeps telling me I’m ODB, so oh well.
Add another comic to the list of ongoing series starring awesome female characters. Starting in April, Oni Press will publish a full-color Courtney Crumrin monthly series by creator Ted Naifeh. The continuing adventures of Naifeh’s girl monster-hunter is in addition, by the way, to next month’s Polly and the Pirates, Volume 2, written by Naifeh with art by Robbi Rodriguez, so 2012 is already shaping up to be an excellent year for young heroines.
I got to talk to Naifeh a little about Courtney Crumrin and his plans for the series:
Michael May: Thanks for talking with me, Ted. Let’s start with you. What scared you as a kid?
Ted Naifeh: Just about everything. Around the time I was Courtney Crumrin’s age, I was going to summer camp, and they told us some of the lamest fireside ghost stories you could imagine. I think they deliberately stuck with silly, half-baked stories. Or maybe they were chosen because they were local. Seriously, one was a frontier nurse whose hand was crushed in a mine accident, and so they sewed on the hand of a dead miner who apparently turned out to be a mad strangler. That was about the caliber. But damn if they didn’t scare the bejeezus out of me. That nurse followed me home and kept me scared for a year. A few years later, the first half hour of the movie Basket Case freaked me out so bad I didn’t sleep all night. I never did see the rest.
Now I realize I was just a super anxious kid and the scary stories were what my anxieties found to latch onto. Growing out of that phase really felt like a triumph, like I had, in a way, traversed a monster-infested underworld and come out the other side. Years later, I found myself relating so deeply to the kid in Sixth Sense it was astonishing. Like him, I learned to make friends with the monsters.
This February writer Greg Rucka and artist Marco Checchetto pit the Punisher against a soldier “who is more like him than either of them realize,” as a group of former Hydra and AIM agents work together to bring Frank Castle down. It all happens in The Punisher #8, and courtesy of our friends at Marvel Comics, we’re pleased to bring you an exclusive preview of that issue.
Check it out, along with the solicitation info, below.
Digital comics were the big story of 2011, and there is no question that comiXology dominated the field. CEO David Steinberger and his crew realized the potential of digital media to transform comics back in 2007, but they didn’t start on the iPhone. What comiXology did first was put comics solicitations online (as opposed to trapping them in a paper catalog, as Previews does) and set up a system for digital pull lists that users could tie in to participating retailers or simply print out and bring to the store.
Now the comiXology brand means much, much more. They were among the first digital comics distributors on the iPhone and then on the iPad, and their digital comics app, simply titled Comics, is one of the top grossing apps in the iTunes store. They also have their own web store as well as an Android app. ComiXology is also behind almost every comics publisher app, including Marvel, DC, Image, IDW (a recent addition), Dynamite and BOOM! Studios, as well as single-property apps such as Scott Pilgrim, The Walking Dead, and Star Trek.
The preview is from the lead story, also called “Athos in America,” a prequel of sorts to Jason’s The Last Musketeer. The swashbuckler from that tale shows up in a New York bar in 1920s New York to relate the tale of how he went to Hollywood to play himself in the film The Three Musketeers.
This volume also includes:
- “The Smiling Horse,” in which the characters from the story “&” in Low Moon attempts to kidnap a woman.
- “The Brain That Wouldn’t Virginia Woolf,” a mash-up of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, told in reverse chronological order.
- The Bukowski pastiche “A Cat From Heaven” in which Jason works on his comic, has a reading in a comic book store, gets drunk and makes a fool of himself.
- The dialogue-free (all the text occurs in thought balloons) “Tom Waits on the Moon,” in which we follow four people (one of them a scientist working on a teleportation machine) until something goes wrong.
- “So Long Mary Ann,” a prison-escape love-triangle story.
This collection of stories comes out in February. Check out the preview below.
Let’s not mince words, the online presence of Tom Brevoort has provided hours of great reading for Robot 6 readers. Given his constant and unflagging willingness to interact with consumers via social media, Brevoort is a quote machine (His Twitter bio? “A man constantly on the verge of saying something stupid–for your entertainment!?”). There’s always a directness (some would say bluntness) to his manner online–making him the ideal subject for an interview. Last year saw Marvel promote Brevoort to senior vice president for publishing. 2011 was a year of some major successes for Marvel, as well as a year where some hard business decisions were made. In this interview, conducted in mid-December via email, I tried to cover a great deal of ground (we even briefly discuss DC’s New 52 success)–and Brevoort did not hold back on any of his answers. For that, I am extremely grateful. Like any high profile comics executive, Brevoort has his fans and his critics (and many in between), but I like to think this exchange offers some perspectives everyone can enjoy.
Tim O’Shea: Whether it’s in your job description or not, fan outreach via social media is definitely part of your job–clearly by your own choice. What benefit or enjoyment do you get from interacting with the fans/consumers?
Tom Brevoort: I’m not sure that I get a particular benefit, except maybe just being the center of attention for a few minutes—maybe everything I do is motivated by ego! I’m a whore for the spotlight! But I started doing this kind of outreach back in the formative days of internet fandom, largely because I like the idea of internet fandom. I know that, if the internet had existed when I was a young comic book reader, I’d have been on those message boards and in those chat rooms all the time, obsessively—just like a certain portion of the audience today. So I like the idea of giving back, of being accessible enough that anybody who has a question or a concern knows where to find me, or at least to find somebody with an insider’s track who might have the background and knowledge to speak to their point. In a very real way, it’s all an outgrowth of what Stan Lee did in his letters pages and Bullpen pages. Joe Q, I think, was really the first person to perfect that approach for the internet age. As EIC he was incredibly available to the audience in a myriad of ways. It’s a philosophy that’s very much woven into our DNA at Marvel. And for the most part, our fans are interesting, vibrant, cool people, especially when you meet them in person.