by Jarrod Jones. Khary Randolph and Joanne Starer want to make comics together. All they need is a platform.

Randolph’s decades of work in the comics industry, supplying razor-sharp artwork for the likes of DC and Marvel, has opened up opportunities to publish whatever he wants wherever he wants. For example, his creator-owned Excellence, a series he co-created with writer Brandon Thomas, enjoys a home over at Skybound Entertainment and Image Comics. As for GlassEyeComics, a new comics label co-founded by Randolph and Starer, any publisher would be happy to roll out the red carpet. And there’s always the self-publishing hustle to consider.

Substack, the enterprising newsletter service that has collected a deep bench of comics’ finest writers and artists through healthy grants and a hands-off approach to creator works, made an offer Randolph and Starer couldn’t refuse. “The beauty of what we have with Substack is that it gives us the breathing room to create exactly what we want: Full control of our creative output, a means to directly interact with our fans on our own terms, and a chance to elevate other creative voices from marginalized backgrounds,” Randolph tells me. “Some might look at this like it’s just a newsletter, but we’re looking at it as a full publishing platform. It’s something new and really exciting for us.”

GlassEyeComics is guided by two exciting voices who have creative demons to exorcise and can do as much without answering to the money man. Substack offers a direct path from reader to creator, and the road GlassEyeComics has set in front of us leads directly to Sirens of the City.

Sirens is a “gritty urban fantasy” set in 1980s-era New York City where Layla, a pregnant teenage runaway, grapples with strange new abilities just as dark forces begin to surround her. Layla’s story begins when she attempts to enter an abortion clinic and is besieged by pro-life protesters, the shocking outcome of which serves as an indicator of the topics Sirens of the City is willing to tackle, topics that would make corporate outfits like Marvel and DC blush. That level of creator freedom is a good fit for Khary and Joanne. “We were given [complete] creative freedom by Substack, so we looked at Sirens as a chance to do something different,” Starer says. “[It’s] something we may not be able to do under the constraints of another publisher. I think this is a pretty accurate representation of who we are.”

Khary Randolph and Joanne Starer spoke with DoomRocket about GlassEyeComics, their Substack deal, Sirens of the City, their favorite artists, we run the gamut.

1. Congratulations on GlassEyeComics, and congratulations on the launch of ‘Sirens of the City’. I wanted to begin with your choice of venue for this new endeavor: Substack. Did you always know that Substack was going to be your home for future creator-owned works like ‘Sirens’? Why Substack instead of, say, Black Mask Studios, Dark Horse, or Image?

Khary Randolph: Thank you! To be honest, none of this was planned. Yes, I’ve had long-term goals of doing less mainstream work and more creator-owned work for a while now, and I think anyone that’s followed my career the last few years has probably seen that. But to be clear the Substack offer came first, and once it was on the table Joanne and I talked and were like, “Well I guess we need a story now!”

The beauty of what we have with Substack is that it gives us the breathing room to create exactly what we want: Full control of our creative output, a means to directly interact with our fans on our own terms, and a chance to elevate other creative voices from marginalized backgrounds. Some might look at this like it’s just a newsletter, but we’re looking at it as a full publishing platform. It’s something new and really exciting for us.

2. You’re collaborating on ‘Sirens of the City’ with your partner, Joanne Starer, the writer of the series. How did the two of you work this story out?

KR: Look, things like The Warriors and Escape From New York are some of my favorite movies of all time. I’ve always known that I was going to one day do a book that was based on the version of New York these movies created in my brain: A weird, grimy, reality-based but fantastical alternate version of it. And I knew that I wanted a female protagonist. The scattered visuals and ideas were already in my head, but I needed a better writer than me to turn it into something good. There was no story there. Enter Joanne.

Joanne Starer: This was a wildly collaborative process from the start. As I’m sure you and your readers know, most of the time in comics the writer writes a script and sends it off to the artist. And then they’ll talk about character designs and changes and such. But we were sitting in the same room together going, “Okay, what are we going to do? What kind of story do we want to tell?” Khary threw out ideas about visual elements, like the setting of 1980s New York and the style of the characters. And I would come in with suggestions about who those characters were, what they wanted, etc. The whole punk and hip-hop aesthetic, the visual themes of the book, that’s very Khary. And then turning it into a story about a girl who has this pregnancy that she absolutely does not want, that’s very me. Once we had the core idea of the book, then we kind of settled into our roles of writer and artist, but we’re constantly sharing what we’re doing, checking in with each other.

In terms of style, tone, and intent, how does ‘Sirens’ represent GlassEyeComics as an independent comics outfit? How does it represent you and Joanne as creators?

JS: We were given [complete] creative freedom by Substack, so we looked at Sirens as a chance to do something different, something we may not be able to do under the constraints of another publisher. So I think this is a pretty accurate representation of who we are. Tackling heavy topics with a good sprinkling of humor is probably the core of who I am as a writer. And everything we do with Glass Eye is going to have some humor to it, some perspective, some diversity. Because, look, Justice League is my favorite book of all time. The Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire run heavily influenced my writing style and honestly changed my life. But there are a thousand books out there about white guys in capes. So that’s not what we’re doing here.

KR: If tackling heavy topics is Joanne’s bag, mine is probably big, kinetic imagery and slick, hip-hop infused line art. This new project will still have that, but it was important for me that what we do at Glass Eye differentiates itself from the work that I do for Marvel, DC, or even Image. I want this to feel like an underground comic. I remember when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was an off-kilter B&W comic that hadn’t become a commercial juggernaut yet. I wanted to tap into that feeling it gave me as a kid. The choice to make it a black and white book that is a little darker and less clean is part of embracing that ethos. It won’t be for everybody, and it doesn’t want to be. These are comics that we want to see in the world, and we’re betting that we aren’t the only ones.

3. ‘Sirens of the City’ and other GlassEyeComics titles like Joanne and artist Gabo’s ‘A Way From Here’ are free for Substack subscribers. But you’ll also be offering a bonus tier for those who shell out cash for GlassEyeComics. What kind of incentives will be made available?

KR: Yeah, for us, getting the work into people’s hands was more important than making money off subscriptions (thanks to Substack for the grant to make the comics—good looking out, y’all) so the actual comics we offer will be 100% free. But behind the paywall is the extra fun goodies. Things like behind-the-scenes process videos, work from guest artists, sketchbooks, and more. In the free version the comics will be serialized a few pages at a time, but if you’re a paid subscriber you’ll get access to each collected chapter as it’s ready if you prefer to read it that way. The Substack grant covered the costs of our two OGNs, but subscriptions will allow us to add bonus content and bring in work from other artists we love. We’ve got some ambitious plans lined up.

4. How are you enjoying Substack as a venue for your work so far? How does this creator-owned experience compare with ‘Excellence’, which you co-created with Brandon Thomas over at Skybound/Image?

KR: Excellence was—and is, don’t get it twisted, it ain’t over yet!—a fantastic experience because it was Brandon and me fully putting ourselves into a book. We are so alike that it really did feel like it was one brain at times. Skybound created a structured environment where they handled all the back-end business stuff, and we could just vibe out and be creative.

This is way different. Substack is super hands-off, and it’s up to us to do everything. It’s way, way more work, but it’s exhilarating and scary because it’s all so new. We’re figuring everything out as we go! And as far as Sirens specifically, Joanne and I are very different people from very different backgrounds. A lot like our relationship, it makes for two voices coming together as one to make a completely new and unique voice. It’s a wild combination, but it really works.

As a comics-reading platform, do you think there’s room for improvement for Substack?

JS: I think that remains to be seen. It’s still early days. I do think it would be nice if they would allow [a] bundling of subscription plans. I can see people getting burned out by having to subscribe to so many different creators. A weekly digest of your favorites would be a nice system.

KR: Yeah it’s a start to something new and cool, but things can always be improved. Every day there is a new development that makes the platform better, though, so nobody’s resting on their heels. I fully believe that if this is successful, the next generation of creators will have a great tool at their disposal to get their ideas out and find their audience.

5. Are there any plans to put ‘Sirens of the City’ and other GlassEyeComics in print? If so, would you work with an established publisher or go the crowd-funding route?

JS: The print rights are still up for grabs at the moment. But any print version would go through an established publisher. We are too old and tired to handle a crowd-funding campaign.

KR: I’ve been blessed to have been a part of a few successful crowd-funded projects but good lord are they a lot of work! Ownership will forever be a major part of what we do going forward, but we don’t mind partners that wanna get in business with us. Just talk to our agent, yo.

6. Khary, as a comics artist, which artists are impressing you these days? Whose work are you currently looking at that makes you feel energized?

KR: I’m always looking at the artists who are finding new ways to flip this medium and keep me excited. I legit think that Bruno Redondo is a genius and people will be looking at his run on Nightwing for a very long time. Greg Smallwood is doing stuff on Human Target that I’ve been attempting to do for years but he is so much better at it than me [laughs]. Nikolas Draper Ivey on Static is one to watch; he gets better with every page. And Cliff Chiang literally doing… everything on Catwoman: Lonely City—don’t even get me started. I swear I’m not a DC comics shill, they’re just putting out some really awesome books lately. I’ve been an art professional for two decades but at the end of the day I’m happy to say I’m still a fan of comics.

JS: Can I answer this one too? I think Ro Stein and Ted Brandt are doing incredible things. And Erica Henderson and Becky Cloonan are at the top of my list of artists I wish I could work with if they weren’t so darn popular and busy. Also David Talaski and Rian Gonzales fill me with joy.

To check out ‘Sirens of the City’ and future GlassEyeComics offerings, subscribe to GlassEyeComics’ Substack.

More comics interviews to get those synapses firing:

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6 things concerning Stuart Moore and ‘Target: Kree — A Marvel: Crisis Protocol Novel’

10 things concerning Mark Russell, ‘Billionaire Island’ and the second coming of ‘Second Coming’

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