By Stefania Rudd, Arpad Okay, and Jarrod Jones. 10 Things Concerning… is DoomRocket’s interview series, where we chat with comics creators about the things that matter most — comic books, and the drive to create comic books. This week, we’re sharing the ten most fascinating conversations we had in 2017.
Whether they were in person, by phone, Skype, or given over email, these were the ten interviews we gave this year that challenged us, made us laugh, and made us think.
10 things concerning John Allison, Max Sarin, and the indelible, essential ‘Giant Days’. Giant Days is at once the most wonderful and most important comic book you could ever read.
It’s funny. It’s wistful. Giant Days simultaneously makes you ache for yesterday and appreciate today. The characters here are people — they’re people we’ve never met, certainly, but people we could definitely know, or have known. People that we’ve loved, maybe. Esther de Groot, Susan Ptolemy, Daisy Wooton, living their lives during some of the most important days of their lives. (That’s where the title comes from, but you already knew that.)
John Allison and Max Sarin unite to tell a story that feels achingly honest. Together, the world contained within Giant Days feels habitable, largely because most of us — whether we’re cognizant of it or not — have experienced it in one way or another. It’s one of those collaborations that feel almost legendary in its perfection. Like a Disney movie, it’s warm and inviting. But it’s often witty and observant too, like some indie movie from the early Nineties.
These days, Giant Days has quietly become one of the more lauded series published today. In 2016 it was nominated for two Eisner Awards, and just this past week, artist Max Sarin, along with inker Liz Fleming, became this year’s recipients of the Reuben Award. (In the Comic Book category, naturally.) If you’re not reading Giant Days, you owe it yourself to change that. Jump in wherever you like — odds are, you’ll sink right in.
10 things concerning Erika Moen, Matthew Nolan, and the ‘Oh Joy Sex Toy Coloring Book’. When you read Oh Joy Sex Toy, a sex-positive comic series that focuses on sex toy reviews, sex education, and generally helping the reader get comfortable with all these genitals flying around, you’re met with images of regular people engaging in what comes natural to them. What you feel when you read it depends entirely on you, but since this is Oh Joy Sex Toy that we’re talking about here, the spectrum of reaction can be as nuanced and diverse as the bodies depicted in its pages.
“It’s funny, I never see them as titillating; I think they’re all practical,” Erika Moen, artist of Oh Joy Sex Toy, tells us. “Every drawing I do serves a purpose; demonstrating how a toy or position works, or it is propelling the narrative forward. It does tickle me when people find a particular drawing arousing! And it’s bound to happen because I’m drawing bodies in different configurations and every now and then I’m gonna draw a configuration that is somebody’s personal jam.”
OJST co-conspirator Matthew Nolan concurs. “Titillation isn’t really ever the aim with our ‘Oh Joy Sex Toy’ comics. If it happens it’s a happy coincidence!” He says. “With images I want to nurture and grow positive sex comics, in all shapes and sizes, and OJST gives me a great place to do it.”
Now, with the release of Oh Joy Sex Toy Coloring Book, an adult coloring book released by Oni Press and featuring images culled from the strips that have enthralled thousands of people, Erika and Matthew can extend their sex positivity into the annals of another medium: hobbies and crafts. Seems entirely appropriate.
10 things concerning Ulises Fariñas and the unique world of ‘MOTRO’. Let’s consider the melting pot of ideas that is Ulises Fariñas’ MOTRO. Stark winterscapes populated by garishly armored brigands, talking pieces of machinery, and a boy who would be king. It’s like DoomRocket contributing writer Brad Sun said in his November 2016 review of MOTRO #1: “There’s something strangely familiar about the fanciful world of ‘MOTRO’.”
Only don’t try too hard to make sense out of all of this stunning mayhem, at least not with the familiar archetypes found in the more comfortable places of myth. They don’t apply to MOTRO. Even when your eyes tell you there’s a bit of Hayao Miyazaki and Katsuhiro Otomo flowing through Fariñas’ pen, or when your heart is thumping in time with Robert E. Howard or George Miller during MOTRO‘s many moments of stylized violence. We’re coming around to the idea that MOTRO is something else. Something far more intimate.
You get the feeling that, when you label MOTRO as a fantasy, you’re kind of painting it into a corner. Ulises Fariñas will even tell you that this series, co-written by Erick Freitas and published by Oni Press, isn’t something that can be constrained by typical designations. “I don’t really think of fantasy as a genre that has hard rules for what you can and can’t do,” he says. “I like dragons, I like motorcycles, I like frogs and wizards, so I just mix it all together and see what comes out.” So if you’re looking to get to the root of what the artist is trying to say with this series, well. Look at the pages. It’s all there.
10 things concerning David Pepose and the emotional core of ‘Spencer & Locke’. When you flip through Spencer & Locke, it’s impossible to look past its influences. Hard-boiled crime splattered across brick and pavement. A boy and his favorite stuffed animal getting into scrapes. As far as premises go, what “Calvin & Hobbes grew up in Sin City” lacks in subtlety, it certainly makes up for in spirit.
With Spencer & Locke, writer David Pepose is wearing his influences on his sleeve. “I remember having this thought of a Frank Miller version of Calvin, all bandaged and bloody, smiling maniacally as he holds a rag doll in the rain,” Pepose tells me. “That idea just kind of lit me up — the first script just poured out of me over the course of a week, and the treatment for the rest of the series poured out of me the week after that.”
What makes Spencer & Locke such an interesting book is that the premise is just the icing. Beneath its reverence for Bill Watterson and Frank Miller lies a story about a man haunted by his childhood. Driven to make life better for other people. What life took away from him, he’ll give back to the city he believes in. Spencer & Locke holds more in store than a mere gimmick. It’s funny. But it’s sad, too, as these stories about the high cost of justice often are. As David says, “The question is what do we do with our scars? Are we defined by them? And can we ever move beyond them?”
10 things concerning Andrew Farago and ‘The Art of Harley Quinn’. She’s a whirling dervish decked out in diamonds and clubs, and she’ll clobber you one if you cross her.
Of course you know Harley Quinn. She’s featured in cartoons, motion pictures, and has launched a tidal wave of merchandise with her cherubic mug, all of which can be found in virtually every corner of the globe. In the world of comic book fandom, Harley Quinn is everywhere. And her status as a premiere DC Universe icon has only grown in the twenty-five years since her inception as a gangster’s moll in Batman: The Animated Series.
She’s changed quite a bit since then. Some would say for the better, considering that that “gangster” in question was none other than the odious Joker himself. Over time Quinn has since moved on from her destructive infatuation with the Clown Prince of Crime to become a formidable ne’er-do-well all her own. As a comic book character, Harley Quinn has experienced more change in a quarter century than some of DC’s icons have ever seen.
“Really enduring characters have a strong, core concept that can be summed up pretty easily,” Andrew Farago, writer of The Art of Harley Quinn, tells me. “Superman’s got powers and he helps people. Batman has a bat-costume and he’s a detective. Harley’s a psychiatrist turned criminal, or The Joker’s (ex-) girlfriend. A strong concept paired with a great costume can get you pretty far in comics.”
Quinn’s profile has shifted considerably over time, from henchwoman to anti-hero to kids’ cartoon star and back. Yet the essence of Harley Quinn remains, and there’s been a small army of incredible artists that have captured some of her finest (and not so finest) moments in wonderful pieces of art along the way. Farago’s The Art of Harley Quinn is here to provide an entertaining glimpse at the character’s second life in the comic book medium, where she’s had a chance to truly flourish. It’s been an interesting ride for Farago, who spent months researching the character on his journey to find the art that would fill his book.
“I read just about every Harley Quinn comic book appearance ever published, interviewed everyone I could, and selected artwork for the book,” he says. “I had to turn around the first draft of the manuscript very quickly after that, but that’s how I always write. Front-load on the research and the interviews, then take a few days off my day job so I can piece it all together into a (hopefully) interesting and coherent narrative.”
10 things concerning Christopher Sebela, Robert Wilson IV, and ‘Heartthrob Season Two’. Once upon a time, Callie Boudreau’s heart simply gave up.
She got a new one. Her life carried on with a donor heart beating in her chest. Only thing is, the experience didn’t change her life in the way you might think. Oh, she learned not to take time for granted, and she re-prioritized her life just like anybody else would under the circumstances. But what drove Callie Boudreau to crime wasn’t just the fleeting nature of her new life. It was serendipity. It was Mercer. Her heart donor.
That was the enticing set-up to Heartthrob, the whirlwind romantic crime saga from writer Christopher Sebela and artist Robert Wilson IV. Callie and Mercer’s story played out within the confines of five marvelous issues, published by Oni Press last year, making critics swoon and readers take notice. As a kinetic blend of passion, comedy, violence, and music, the mini-series drew us in and left us wanting more — so much more. As we said in our review of Heartthrob #1, “[Is this a] new twist on the concept of “mad love?” Maybe. But I’m going to need at least twenty more issues to properly suss it out.”
Twenty more issues of Heartthrob may not be beyond our wanting, either. A second season is forthcoming, with Sebela and Wilson teaming up with colorist Nick Filardi for another bout of poor decisions, reckless love and, of course, all the Fleetwood Mac you can handle.
5 things concerning Carly Usdin, ‘Hi-Fi Fight Club’, and a healthy affection for the ’90s. The year is 1998. Autumn leaves skitter past the doorway of Vinyl Mayhem, New Jersey’s musical établissement d’excellence, home of choice tunes and vigilante justice. Cue that record scratch sound effect.
It’s crazy, I know. But it’s true. Counter jockeys Kennedy, Irene, Maggie, and Dolores — and soon the new kid, Chris — are united in common purpose: to kick butts as often and as thoroughly as they kick out the jams.
That’s the premise behind Hi-Fi Fight Club, an all-new BOOM! Studios/BOOM! Box series that unites film and television director Carly Usdin with artist Nina Vakueva, inker Irene Flores, and colorist Rebecca Nalty.
You likely already know Carly Usdin’s work. Her feature length film, the darkly hilarious Suicide Kale (written and starring Transparent‘s Brittani Nichols), had better ring a few bells. (Whether it does or doesn’t, you should definitely rent it anyway. Here, have a link.) She also directed this sketch for Funny or Die that nearly made me fall out of my seat. Carly Usdin knows comedy. She also knows camaraderie, something Hi-Fi Fight Club has in abundance.
“I wanted to create a well-balanced ensemble that hits all of the classic ’90s teen tropes,” Usdin says concerning Chris, Kennedy, Dolores, and the rest. “But in my own weird way.” [Editor’s note — ‘Hi-fi Fight Club’ has since undergone a name change, to ‘Heavy Vinyl’.]
10 things concerning Lonnie Nadler, Zac Thompson, and the truth behind ‘The Dregs’. Despite what you may have read, social issues and comic books were made for each other. Comics have been trouncing slumlords and abusive domestic partners and shifty-eyed politicians for so long that it’s transcended cliche. Simply put, societal ills are embedded within comics’ DNA.
When a comics creator feels strongly about certain social issues and feels compelled to address them, they have a platform. And sometimes, to properly convey those ideas, it takes a team to realize them. When it comes to addressing homelessness and the economic disparity inside one of North America’s most expensive cities in the world in terms of housing, there is no team working in the industry I’d trust more to tackle the issue than Lonnie Nadler, Zac Thompson, Eric Zawadzki, and Dee Cunniffe. The first issue of their book The Dregs, published by industry iconoclasts Black Mask Studios, is available in stores now. Stop reading this intro, run out to your nearest comic book store, and grab a copy. Then come back, finish this interview, and it’s likely you may come to the same conclusion.
In order to make some noise about a problem too many people are willing to ignore you have to be cruel with the details. The Dregs is a book that understands that. It’s satire, but it’s incredibly thoughtful satire; as a detective story it wears its influences on its sleeve so there’s plenty of Chandler and Hammett. And if you’ve already done that math and came up with Cervantes or Pynchon or both, well guess what. There’s plenty of them in there too.
But it’s a slippery slope, satire. If you grasp too wildly, you run the risk of falling flat on your ass. And all your critics and peers will be watching. This is something Mr. Nadler is all too aware of. “We’re not out to change the world because we’re not naive enough to believe a comic book can do that,” Lonnie tells me. “But we do hope to offer a somewhat authentic look at life on the streets, and get at some sort of truth through our bizarre fiction.”
10 things concerning Michael Moreci and ‘Black Star Renegades’. The galaxy is in peril. Praxis, a dark force of unimaginable evil, has a firm choke-hold on every walk of life. Our protectors have cowed in their towers, waiting for a prophecy that may never come to save us all. And then there’s Cade Sura, rebel pilot and scoundrel, thrust into the center of the fray. Armed with an ancient weapon and teamed with a scrappy rogue and a snarky droid, Cade must navigate the treacherous expanses of space to strike back at Praxis… and maybe find his place in the universe.
That’s the premise of Black Star Renegades, the debut novel from Roche Limit and Superman writer Michael Moreci. And if it sounds a bit familiar, especially given the filmic climate this season, well, that’s no accident. Moreci, a fan of Star Wars since forever, tells me he wouldn’t be here today were it not for “those tales from a galaxy far, far away.”
“Star Wars, without question, has taught me more about storytelling than anything else in my life,” Moreci says. “It taught me about structure and breaking structure; it taught me that stories can be humorous but also profound, corny but also deeply emotional; and it taught me about suspense and world-building and what it’s like to make characters that feel as close to your heart as anyone you know in real life.”
Enter Black Star Renegades. It’s a heartfelt love letter to Star Wars, sure, but it’s also very much its own thing. Moreci has been working in sequential art for long enough now that action and adventure is second nature to him. It’s his experience — and his enthusiasm for science fiction — that gives Renegades its propulsion. Rocketing from one jam to another, we follow Cade and his motley crew with a page-turning verve. I was thrilled by reading it, because I could tell that Michael was thrilled to have written it. [Editor’s note — ‘Black Star Renegades’ is in stores January 2. You can order it here.]
Shelly Bond, Black Crown, and the future of comics: a vital connection is made. On an overcast Saturday afternoon in March I found myself sitting in an Italian restaurant talking to Shelly Bond.
It was ECCC 2017, and for Bond, the cat was out of the bag. Everybody knew that the comics editor was up to no good that weekend, but even with the news out in the open that Bond would curate a new creator-owned imprint from IDW Publishing called Black Crown, the details behind her new endeavor remained mum. Secrecy was paramount. With only a day gone by since IDW’s official announcement and the WonderCon reveal of Kid Lobotomy still three weeks away, there wasn’t much she could tell me during that afternoon.
In fact, she would often glance over at Steven Scott, PR Manager at IDW, and ask, “Did I say too much?” We would all have a laugh and I would glance nervously at my plate, concocting yet another subtle ruse to get something, anything, before Shelly went to Anaheim with Chris Ryall and made her announcement. It would probably please IDW to know that she stuck to her guns and kept a poker face the entire time — though there was no way you couldn’t feel the excitement in her voice. Shelly Bond was making comics again, and you could tell it was making her very happy.
We talked about a lot of things that day. We talked about how much we both loved Love & Rockets — which is funny, considering we found out Gilbert Hernandez would produce Assassinistas with Tini Howard for Black Crown not long after. Then we talked about Bond’s departure from Vertigo, though it was clear that she had moved on from that chapter. “When I left DC it was liberating,” she told me. “I really felt like it was an exciting time for me in my life.”
Presented here is the first of a four-part interview series, where I talk with Shelly Bond about comics, Black Crown, music, how much we both love Mike Allred — all the important stuff. Read the conversation that took place on the day DoomRocket met Black Crown.
Which interviews did you enjoy the most? Who would you like to see us interview in 2018? Sound off in the comments section below.