Read the second 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 AssassinistasBlack 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 the final part of our interview series with Black Crown editor Shelly Bond, where we discuss the next wave of titles from the killer IDW imprint, the craft of Punks Not Dead artist Martin Simmonds, and what the future of comics might look like if Shelly has anything to say about it.

Shelly Bond, Martin Simmonds, and the future of Black Crown [Part Three]

Cover to ‘Punks Not Dead’ #3. Art by Martin Simmonds/Black Crown/IDW Publishing

DoomRocket: Martin, I wanted to mention how taken aback I initially was [with ‘Punks Not Dead’ #1]. First we meed this kid Fergie just seconds before he gets his ass kicked, and then we jump back in time to get an idea of what his relationship with his mother is like. [Laughs]

Martin Simmonds: Yep!

DR: Out of nowhere we meet these two characters by way of a talk show, like a Maury Povich. And everything Fergie and his mother say on TV, it’s all a con. We find out the father’s out of the picture, and mother and son are parading around on television just to make ends meet. Yet there’s so much that isn’t being said. 

MS: Of course.

DR: And if your art wasn’t so bright and gorgeous… [Laughs] I might have looked at the book in an entirely different way. There’s a lot of sadness in that scenario, but ‘Punks’ has so much more going on than just that. It’d have to be an ongoing — more than just six issues — to really capture all that’s going on!

Shelly Bond: Let’s make it so! [Laughs]

DR: Let’s talk about the tone of the comic. The covers have this loud feeling, and the insides have them too, but there’s room for these downbeat moments.

MS: I always thought the covers should really be bright and garish. I think it’s kind of too obvious to continue down the route, everything inside following that tone, that kind of aesthetic. I really love the idea of quiet moments having muted colors, because then it really boosts those moments. And then you can have these really intense moments, like… Especially in the second issue, there are a couple of moments where the colors really step in.

Shelly Bond, Martin Simmonds, and the future of Black Crown [Part Three]

Interior pages from ‘Punks Not Dead’ #2. Art by Martin Simmonds, Dee Cunniffe, and Aditya Bidikar/Black Crown/IDW Publishing

DR: I was looking at some of your work over the past couple of years. One thing that really stood out was this book that you did, “All Roads Lead to Hell”, for Disconnected Press.

MS: Wow, all right.

What struck me about it is that it felt like a spiritual prequel in a way to ‘Punks Not Dead’. In terms of execution, how you laid it out… especially the colors. I mean, it’s about teen romance and Satanism…

MS: Yes! Right.

DR: … And then, over here in ‘Punks Not Dead’, you have teen angst and the afterlife. These two things fit really well together, but they couldn’t be further apart in terms of your use of color. In ‘Hell’, there’s a lot of rust, gold, moss… lots of black. It conveys this sense of foreboding, but it also has this lurid romanticism attached to it. 

SB: I love the phrase “lurid romanticism.”

MS: I’m shocked that you even read that comic! [Laughs]

DR: Well, I was doing research, and when I came across it I had to read it. And I loved how its themes complimented ‘Punks’ and how the colors made it feel like an inverted, Satanic version of it. I knew then that I had to read more from you. I think I said it on Twitter on that you were like Phil Noto meets Bill Sienkiewicz…

MS: That’s… high praise. [Laughs]

DR: Well, that’s what was in my heart at the time. [Laughs] But reading your older stuff showed me how you’ve evolved over time. You know what you want to convey. You know how to lay out a page. All that is secondary to how you tell a story. 

MS: Well, thank you.

Shelly Bond, Martin Simmonds, and the future of Black Crown [Part Three]

Page from ‘Disconnected Vol. 2’. Written by P.M. Buchan. Art by Martin Simmonds and Jim Campbell/Disconnected Press

DR: Tell me how you work, then, with [‘Punks’ writer] David Barnett. How much are you putting in, how much of it is his master plan — what’s your dynamic like?

MS: It’s an organic process. I mean, it obviously grows. And it includes Shelly, as well. But things change so much in the script before it’s approved. I think in the beginning, I played it quite safe, and it was only after Shelly kept saying, “No, no, no, you have to go back and change this…” or “give it a little extra here…” that I… It makes such a difference.

David’s newer to comics even more than me, so I think for him it’s a bigger learning curve than it might be for me. So I don’t think he was quite sure how it would go, how the relationship would work out between me and him. Or for the three of us, really. There’s a process, really…

SB: And it always goes through twelve rewrites. Kidding! Kidding.

MS: [Laughs] Yes, plenty of rewrites. Not the red pen!

DR: Shelly’s dreaded red pen. [Laughs]

SB: You know what? My philosophy is it’s final when it’s right.

DR: So when is the comic done for you? 

SB: When I approve it online. Honestly. Sometimes a last-minute change makes all the difference. For instance, in the first issue [of ‘Punks Not Dead’]… we must have read through it a hundred times. And there was a moment where… I felt we needed a beat! For Fergie. No copy, just a moment where Fergie could take in the magic. I think it was later on in the issue, at the school yard…

MS: With the magpies coming down?

SB: Yes, just a page of white and Fergie.

DR: [Pauses] That was my favorite part of the issue!

MS: That was a very late addition.

SB: I’m such a fan of doing that. Editing is like conducting an orchestra. It’s about rhythm. When you read through something a hundred times, if something still isn’t right, often it’s because a character needs a moment. A beat. We need a break from copy. You need that moment where you can catch your breath.

Shelly Bond, Martin Simmonds, and the future of Black Crown [Part Three]

Interior page from ‘Punks Not Dead’ #1. Art by Martin Simmonds/Black Crown/IDW Publishing

DR: I wanted to ask you — because you have the first batch of Black Crown trades on the way — are you thinking of a heavy bookstore presence? How do you want to push your comics in this market?

SB: I’m a periodical purist… you know, we talked about this last year. I love paper. I love every part of these books. Our fake ads.

MS: I had a reader come up to my table and the first thing they did was compliment the quality of the print, as well. The paper stock… they loved it! They absolutely loved it. It really makes a difference.

SB: But trades. There are people out there that don’t know you can walk into a store, a comic store, and buy comics as trades. David Barnett wrote a thread on Twitter for a friend who didn’t even know comic books were still published. So I asked him if we could tweak it a bit and appropriate it to run in the “Definite Article” column for next month. So now we have a wonderful piece — and I made sure to ask Philip [Bond] to add a little dotted line and a scissor so people know to cut it out [Laughs] and share it! Share it with friends and relatives who A) don’t know that comic book stores still exist, B) are afraid to walk into a comic book store, C) don’t understand the difference between a comic, a trade, and a graphic novel.

It’s a wonderful little piece that says, “Go to your local comics shop, or go to comiXology if you want to read on your tablet, or go to the book store to pick up your trades.” I’m happy to do a public service announcement; I’m all about spreading the word. Because this is what I do, this is what I want, this is what I’ve done for twenty-five years and what I want to continue to do. We have to convert people. People like to read? We have to make sure that readers know this is a medium that is really misunderstood. People have kids that are reluctant readers? Give them comics. It really helps.

DR: How does Black Crown compete with other creator-owned imprints today? How does Black Crown compete with, say, Image Comics? 

SB: The thing that’s so different between Image and Black Crown is that they’re completely different concepts. Honestly, I feel like for people who get our books — we got a table for you at the Pub. Bring yourself, bring your friends. For people who don’t like our books — that’s okay! Don’t mean to offend. Read the books that are for you, but read comics. That’s how I feel. I’m just so passionate about the medium.

DR: And what about your future with Mr. Simmonds here?

SB: [Points to Martin] Now, I’m going to embarrass him for a minute. This is a guy I met at a convention who did very good work. Solid work. Remembered him vaguely, but I saw some of his work on Instagram — he had posted a color piece. And I said, “Ooh, what’s Bill Sienkiewicz drawing?” [Laughs] And then that’s when I looked closer and saw that that’s not Bill… that’s Martin!

Then I read Death Sentence. I read [All Roads Lead to Hell]. And I was like, “I gotta find this guy.” From day one, and I never say this, he nailed his sketches. I didn’t even go and double-check his storytelling, and it could have been crap. [Laughs] I might have made a big mistake. But I didn’t care! It just felt right. And when I showed David Barnett a sample, he said, “We have our guy.” Then I thought, “Well, they’re both kinda new…” But I knew we just had to do it.

[Martin] has been so accommodating. I warn people in advance: I’m not a light lunch. I’m gonna be on you. Everything is going to be considered. And it’s not always going to be fun. Some months it’s going to be fun, but a lot of months it’s going to be a lot of work. You’re going to feel like you’re making thirty cents an hour, and even at the very end it’s not over until it’s over. But I hope that by the time we get to print we’ve made it as good as we could in the time frame, because we had to move on. It’s important to know when to let it go. When to move forward.

Shelly Bond, Martin Simmonds, and the future of Black Crown [Part Three]

Cover to ‘Kid Lobotomy’ #6. Art by Nick Robles/Black Crown/IDW Publishing

DR: Well, that brings me to my last question: How long do you think ‘Punks Not Dead’ should go on?

MS: Wow. [Pauses] I know David has around four arcs in his head.  

SB: He told me six!

MS: Oh, I see. He’s holding back for me! [Laughs] I think that, as long as it’s needed, it could go off in all sorts of directions.

SB: What’s wonderful about the concept, and the whole idea about not having the apostrophe, is that there is more than one punk. And “punk” can be defined in so many different ways…

MS: Yeah. David was telling me about an idea — and he may have already told this to you, Shelly — [turns to me] I’m not going to tell you what it is, but I have to say… if we get to this stage, I’ll be as happy as a pig in shit. [Laughs] It’s amazing.

SB: You think he has something for issue #150? [Laughs] That’s my limit, you know. When Fables hit #150 — career highlight. To get 150 issues of the same comic from the same writer… what a miracle, right? And of that quality!

DR: So you think a Black Crown could make it to #150?

SB: Hell, yeah. Easy.

MS: Suits me! [Laughs]

DR: Yeah, steady work! [Laughs]

SB: Let’s get Punks Not Dead to 151 issues. I’d like to push Bill Willingham off his pedestal. [Laughs]

Before: Shelly Bond, Martin Simmonds, and the future of Black Crown [Part Two]

Read the first part of this interview series here.