Shelly Bond, Martin Simmonds, and the sounds of Black Crown [Part Two]
Read the first part of this interview series here.
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 joins us in this installment), and where, exactly, our allegiances lie in the war between Oasis and Blur.
DoomRocket: So tell me about ‘House Amok’.
Shelly Bond: I’m excited about Chris Sebela. I’ve loved his work since High Crimes. I mean, he came in like a whirlwind and he hasn’t stop since.
DR: He works so hard.
SB: He does! He really does. And I really like so much of his work. He’s got a great body of work for somebody who’s been in comics for the last ten years. But it’s interesting. I approached him to pitch me — and I really wanted him to pitch me a story that would keep him up at night — but I was determined to hook him up with someone who was a veteran artist. He’s had some pretty great team-ups, but so often he’d been the big star name. He’s brought in a lot of newcomers.
Please don’t get me wrong. The books are nice. I wanted him to level up. I wanted to put him toe-to-toe with someone who was just sensational. Who had a body of work older than all of us here, and someone who was still operating at the height of his career. That’s Shawn McManus, hands down.
DR: I think it’s a really inspired pairing.
SB: Oh, thank you!
DR: Chris Sebela on a horror book is a fantastic idea. The first book I ever read by him was ‘Demonic’. It was violent, it was audacious —
SB: I know — I loved it, and I need more!
DR: It was only six issues long, and I knew it wasn’t hardly enough.
SB: Yeah. His work I think of like David Lapham’s. Lapham’s my favorite, Stray Bullets is my favorite — don’t touch my Stray Bullets collection — such great work. And sometimes it feels gross and it feels wrong, but you want it anyway.
DR: When you read ‘Stray Bullets’ you need a shower afterwards. In the best way. [Laughs] But with ‘House Amok’, we have a bonafide horror book from Black Crown. Is horror something that you always wanted to explore through this imprint?
SB: My goal with Black Crown is to only do books that are wholly original, whereas I think some companies… “Oh, I want to have my crime thriller… oh, I want to have my dark fantasy… oh, I want to have my high fantasy…” Black Crown books are more than that. And I think the elements have to feel right.
Going back to the concept [of Black Crown], like, it’s really easy to sell something in a few sentences by saying, “Something’s like something,” but to be a Black Crown book? It needs dysfunctional irreverence. It needs to represent how we live now. And I feel that’s hard to qualify! I feel really privileged that I’m able to curate a line of books where I can choose people to come together and produce things that even they didn’t know they were capable of. That’s what it really means to be a Black Crown book.
So I really wanted to make sure the second year was really unlike anything else. And unlike anything you saw in the first year. I mean, why repeat yourself? Originality is king and queen.
DR: Comics are always in a state of flux. Shifting, re-inventing, being alive. It feels like a living thing sometimes.
SB: Which is why I think it’s so great that we have a book like Euthanauts. There’s nothing that any of us worry about more than this mortal coil. Or —
DR & Shelly, in unison: — Or the band! [Laughs]
SB: By the way, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil… always on the jukebox at the Black Crown Pub.
DR: We live on a plane between Heaven and Las Vegas.
DR: And speaking of music, I wanted to bring Martin [Simmonds] in on this. So, ‘Punks Not Dead’ is my favorite debut from Black Crown so far.
SB: Wow! That’s huge!
Martin Simmonds: Thank you!
DR: Now, you know I loved ‘Kid Lobotomy’, ‘Assassinistas’ —
SB: I know! My god!
DR: And I wanted you to know that I felt ‘Punks Not Dead’ is one of the most assured debuts I’ve read in years. Not just in premise, but the execution of that premise. The title is ‘Punks Not Dead’ and the covers are designed to punch you in the face, but when you open it up, it’s in this world that feels almost real. It feels comforting, in a way. In the first issue you meet this kid and this ghost he’s hanging out with, neither of them know what’s going on, but they’re listing to The Smiths and everything’s okay. That to me is what Black Crown is all about.
SB: [to Simmonds] That’s awesome.
DR: I wanted to ask you what you and [‘Punks’ writer] David Barnett have cooked up in the next few issues. Nothing too spoiler-y; I don’t think IDW gave me the clearance.
SB & MS: [Laughs]
DR: I wanted to talk about the time when you and David were developing ‘Punks Not Dead’. You probably already knew you were going to be dabbling in the annals of punk legend. What I think is interesting is that the character Sid is not actually Sid Vicious.
MS: That’s true.
DR: And a lot of people missed that.
MS: Even Sid missed that. He doesn’t know that.
DR: So it’s this really ambiguous thing, where you co-opt an identity that is not necessarily your own, but then it follows you into the afterlife!
MS: And we don’t even know what a ghost is!
DR: We were just talking about ‘Euthanauts’ and the concept of death in the Black Crown universe. How do you guys approach it? How do you want death to look and feel?
MS: That’s the thing — we don’t know what a ghost is. A ghost may not be somebody who’s died and moved on to a different plane… we just don’t know. It’s completely ambiguous at the moment. So we call him a “ghost”, but what that is, we just don’t know.
SB: I have a feeling Dorothy Culpepper is going to let us know for sure what he is. [Laughs]
MS: She’s one to watch.
DR: So far she’s my favorite character in the series. Her introductory scene, where she comes in and exorcises a demon in the home of the British Prime Minister — it’s such a raucous way to throw in such an assertive character into something this dramatic.
SB: David Barnett — it must be said — that is the one character he wrote seamlessly from the get-go. David is… a whip-smart journalist. And I don’t know if he thought comics would be this brutal. But we beat him up all the time. He’s so easy to tease! He’s a super-nice guy. We adore him, and honestly, they [Martin & Barnett] are one of comics’ greatest new teams.
MS: That’s really kind, thank you. We hit it off straight from the beginning. We grew up in two different areas, and we do have different music tastes.
DR: How did you guys come to punk, then?
MS: Well, it’s common ground. We’ve both been in bands. Both failed. [Laughs] But yeah, we both hit it off. I think it kind of benefits that we both came from Britain.
SB: Would you say that your musical taste is a bit cooler?
MS: Of course it is!
DR: I’ll bite: What bands do you listen to?
MS: Burt Bacharach. [Pauses]
DR: [Pauses] That’s not real.
MS: [Laughs] No. [Laughs]
SB: Spice Girls.
MS: [Laughs] I think he comes from a more indie background. I think he’s quite into BritPop, as well. But see, when BritPop was happening, I have to be honest, I was looking towards the U.S.
SB: This is where we stop the interview and fire Martin.
MS: We were discussing —
SB: Fired. [Laughs]
MS: Before I’d put up any artwork, we had had a conference call, didn’t we.
MS: And Shelly said to me, “Before we go any further: Oasis or Blur?” That was the big question she put to me.
DR: It’s fine. She did that to me, too.
SB: My husband hates me for that, by the way. Hates that I do that. [Laughs]
MS: I waffled on that for ages. But I did say Oasis.
SB: Oh, I was so relieved.
MS: I thought, “Oasis or Blur?” There were elements of Blur that I liked. That I really, really liked. But at the time I was looking at the U.S., at post-punk/hardcore bands like Fugazi and Minor Threat, that kind of stuff. So I was probably in my arrogant, angsty teenage phase at the time. I kind of dismissed BritPop. It’s only in hindsight that I think of all the BritPop bands, I think my favorite would probably be Oasis now, looking back…
DR: See, I’m a Suede guy, myself.
SB: I’m a Suede guy, too!
MS: Uh, Pulp…
SB: Pulp! Pulp and Suede and Elastica…
DR: Hell yes, Elastica. But it’s interesting, when you watch Pulp and Suede live, you watch Jarvis Cocker jump up into the rafters, quite literally walking on his fans’ shoulders… Brett Anderson meanwhile is just kinda… having sex with the microphone [Laughs] it really just comes down to preference at that point.
DR: If there is a right answer — and there is [Laughs] — we don’t mean to put you under this kind of pressure in front of your new editor. [Laughs]
MS: Well, I appreciate that. [Laughs] But the thing about Oasis is that they always reminded me of Slade!
SB: Oh, I don’t agree with that at all. He is fired! [Laughs]
DR: Oh, come on, Shelly…
SB: All right, I’ll think about it. [Laughs]
Our interview with Martin Simmonds continues next week, where we get get down to business and talk about artwork, ‘Punks Not Dead’, and the future of Black Crown.