Shelly Bond, ‘Euthanauts’ and the future of Black Crown [Part One]
By Jarrod Jones. Black Crown arrived over one year ago, armed with a natural swagger and a murderer’s row of incredible talent. And the sheer force of it knocked us on our collective asses.
Kid Lobotomy was a critical smash, ditto Assassinistas. Black Crown Quarterly made good on its promise as a formidable “compendium of cool.” Then came Punks Not Dead, with David Barnett and Martin Simmonds. DoomRocket contributing writer Mickey Rivera said of Punks, “‘Punks Not Dead’ has the most beautiful sequential art I’ve seen in mainstream comics in a while. Martin Simmonds executes facial expressions masterfully, and his flowing, stylized forms completely pop off the page with color assists by Dee Cunniffe. [This] is absolutely some loud and rowdy punk rock for your eyeballs.” You’d would think all this success would put a bit of pressure on Bond to make sure the next two books in Black Crown’s gallery were nothing short of stupendous. But she doesn’t even blink when I ask her about it.
However, tell her it’s 2018 and Black Crown has one year in the bag and she almost doesn’t believe you. “It’s hard to believe it’s the second year already,” Shelly says to me with a sigh. As one of the hardest-working editors in comics, if not the hardest-working editor in comics, she’s flown through her imprint’s first year unfettered by outside interference, and that level of creative freedom is a good look for Bond. Hearing her speak about that freedom is downright inspiring.
“People keep saying to me, ‘How could you put an imprint together in six months?’ When you don’t have road blocks, when you don’t have people putting their hands in your face saying no, you can get a lot accomplished when you know what you want.”
Presented here is a three-part interview series with Shelly Bond, where we discuss the next wave of titles from the killer IDW imprint, the craft of Punks Not Dead artist Martin Simmonds (who will join us in a later installment), and how much Six Feet Under can still pack the feels.
DoomRocket: Here we are, the second wave of Black Crown. The ‘new’ wave, if you will. Seems fitting, somehow.
Shelly Bond: Thank you! You know, it’s funny. I feel like it’s hard to believe it’s the second year already. [Laughs] People keep saying to me, “How could you put an imprint together in six months?” When you don’t have road blocks, when you don’t have people putting their hands in your face saying no, you can get a lot accomplished when you know what you want.
Because the imprint is so small, and because the IDW crew is 100% behind us, [we] can really get it done and do it to our standards. Which, obviously, are pretty high. [Laughs] That’s why we’re here. It’s a boutique imprint. It’s not for everybody, but if it’s for you — then welcome, come on in, we want you to be here.
How have you been enjoying it? Have you been reading your own reviews?
SB: Always! Always. Omigod, for sure. I couldn’t be happier, just to be back. Across the board. I feel that comics are different than even the comics of five or six years ago. It’s interesting. I mean, there are definitely things that appeal to [critics], and things that bother them — about any book. Obviously, it’s all subjective. Every reader is a discerning reader. And I do find that, whereas like in the Nineties, where people would do less story synopses and more critical assessment… you get a bit of both, now. I think that’s good. I mean, that just shows that people are involved, that they care. Black Crown books are for people who really care about story and art. And design! We care about the whole package.
I’m always impressed when I see reviewers mention the trade dress or the logo design. Or even some of the jokes we make in the letter columns — we have a ball, putting those together.
It’s like a cornucopia of little references, Easter eggs for people who have an aesthetic appreciation for record labels and such. Like little cues that you can pick up on, if you know where to look.
SB: Year One was all about getting our four launch books up and running, and really making sure it was clear what the Black Crown aesthetic was all about. Year Two is introducing readers to the streets, and showing them a really clear understanding of the shared landscape. Because every book that’s a part of Black Crown is connected to Canon Street. They own a piece of real estate. They’re all connected in different ways.
So far, I would say it feels organic, it feels lived-in. And what Philip [Bond, Shelly’s husband] has designed looks fantastic.
SB: Well, thank you. I know I’ve said this before, but I’ve married extremely well, and that’s really the best advice I can give. [Laughs] Philip has been… he really started out as the secret weapon. We knew he was gonna draw, just a little bit. And I was delighted to know there was no conflict of interest. IDW was just so happy to have him on board.
But he really has become an equal partner of Black Crown. Because [Philip] has done so much of the design, and the two of us are really putting these books together, in conjunction with IDW. We have a wonderful assistant, Chase Marotz, who is our Johnny-on-the-spot, who gets everything put together for us and keeps all lines of communication open. But Philip and I really get our hands dirty. We’re both doing design. Philip designs all the logos —
I love all the logos. Every time a new book comes out, I’m like, “How do they keep doing this?”
SB: [Laughs] Well, it’s because we don’t sleep. And because… I married well. [Laughs]
I wanted to ask about ‘Euthanauts’. The premise of it lies in finding what happens in the afterlife. What’s waiting for us when we die. It seems like a really abstract thing in a universe where we can visit Canon Street whenever we want.
SB: [Nods] Yeah.
How might this play into the entirety of Black Crown? Or will it?
SB: Well, the connection to Black Crown is actually through a funeral home. Tini [Howard] and I have been talking about this process for over a year. When she originally pitched me, she pitched me five concepts for Black Crown. This is the real stand-out. And I love it just as much as I love Assassinistas, but we thought of Assassinistas as a more commercial way of coming in. We wanted Gilbert Hernandez for that, and he was available, so we thought, “Why don’t we do that first?” and tackle Euthanauts as the second project. Because we knew Assassinistas was a limited series, we knew we were going to do Euthanauts come Hell or high water.
It’s the story that’s been burning in Tini’s bones to write. She’s been researching it forever, she’s always been fascinated by death and the afterlife. I think there’s nothing cooler that what she’s gonna bring to the comics medium.
This is probably the most exciting project I’ve seen her attached to. It’s so unique. So you’ve pretty much made your bed with Tini, then.
SB: Right from the beginning, I really had hoped I could find a writer who deserved special attention. And there was no question. When I first started reading her work — I mean, seriously — Page One, Panel One, Caption One of a short story she sent me, I knew I wanted to work with her. She had such a unique and clever cadence, and I thought she was such a great idea person. To send me five pitches, and for me to love four of them and like one of them… that doesn’t happen!
You know, there are people probably laughing right now, because I’ve had pitches from people that I have rejected for many years, finally getting a book together after years and years of trying to find that middle ground. For me, some ideas have been done to death. So what I want to know is, what is the writer going to bring to it that is wholly original? I think that everything Tini touches comes across as original. She is one of a kind.
What I loved about this project was that when she mentioned the title, Euthanauts, I thought that, right off the bat, it was profound. It was obviously going to be dealing a bit with euthanasia, which is such a controversial topic. Not covered in comics often —
If at all.
SB: If at all! And especially from a young person’s point of view! To me it’s such a great starting point. And I think when Tini and I were talking, and we kept saying the title, there’s another side to it: “Youth”. It’s interesting when you look at people’s perceptions of the Great Beyond. They’re so radically different depending on your age, depending on your experiences. Everybody has that question, and everybody has a preconceived notion — we all know about “going to the light”, but what does that mean? I think Tini is one of the few writers of her generation who will be able to take it to a new place.
What do you think? About the ethereal beyond?
SB: Well, you know… [Laughs] I think before I answer that question, something that’s very interesting… as Tini and I have been working on the first two scripts, I’ve been re-watching Six Feet Under. One of my favorite HBO shows. I liked The Sopranos, but I loved Six Feet Under. It really spoke to me. So Tini, and Nick [Robles] — our artist — and I have been binge-watching it. I watched it all in two weeks. Those two —
That’s a grim two weeks!
SB: I know, right? [Laughs] Those two are miles behind me, so I gotta kick their butts on that one. It’s just amazing when something that moved you so much fifteen years ago is still relevant, compelling, and masterfully done. I think that’s what we’re going to do with Euthanauts. It really is Six Feet Under meets Sandman. In so many different ways!
It’s a story that is at once personal, because it’s about two strong female characters that come from very disparate places. One of them dies in the first issue, and one of them becomes a tether. Different generations, different backgrounds, raised in different ways, yet both very strong. I think that, while we can have a self-contained story about them and what it means to become a euthanaut, it also has the legs for world-building. It’s such a huge concept, and it’s something that we grapple with every day.
You’re known for pairing young talent with veteran talent, which has been a selling point for Black Crown. Tini and Nick Robles are both relatively new creators — why did you decide to pair these two together?
SB: That’s what’s interesting about this particular team. Tini was a fan of Nick’s work, and I discovered Nick through Tess Fowler. Tess was a big fan of Nick’s, and Nick did a piece of Kid Lobotomy fanart and posted it on Twitter. I saw it and thought, “Wow, that’s amazing!” And Tess said, “Oh, he’s so good! You have to check out his art!” So I did.
He was doing Alien Bounty Hunter, and Tess had said, “Why don’t you run that as the cover to Kid Lobotomy #6?” And I said, “It’s your book, what are you talking about?” I had already hired a variant cover artist, so I didn’t have any slots open. And she said, “You know what? I’m busy working on the interiors anyway, so why don’t we do that?” So, really, it was Tess who gave Nick the break at Black Crown.
I was delighted. He was thrilled. He actually polished the piece up, and it’s going to be out next month. And I had taken a look at his stuff, and wow, he really had the chops! He is relatively new to comics, I think he said he’d only been doing them for almost two years. Nick’s done great work for Vault, but he’s really wanted to sink his teeth into a creator-owned project and work with a writer, to have a close relationship with a writer, and really put his stamp on comics.
I couldn’t think of a better title for him. Tini was already familiar with his work, and when I mentioned his name she said, “Absolutely. Let’s get this done.” He did sketches, and it really seemed like he had nailed the characters. It seemed right and we just ran with it.
One of the beauties of working with a small imprint is that, because it’s so hands-on and I work so closely with my team, there’s no two-three-four-five week waiting period to get signed off. People trust us. So we can actually make comics and make art in a reasonable amount of time. We don’t have to wait three years for something to come to fruition, when possibly six other people might have covered the same topic, come up with something similar, and covered the market on it. To me, art has to happen fast. That’s when it’s exciting.
Our interview with Shelly Bond continues next week.