by Jarrod JonesBraving the gauntlet of Big Two events, prestige format risk-takers, off-the-radar indie releases and a non-stop avalanche of floppies is DoomRocket’s HOT PRESS. With so many comics out there screaming for your eyeballs, HOT PRESS is here with recommendations, commentary, and general chatter concerning the comics industry. This week: ‘What’s the Furthest Place from Here?’ #1, ‘Batman: The Imposter’ #1, and an interview with ‘Undone by Blood’ creators Lonnie Nadler & Zac Thompson’.

What makes a first issue exciting? Is it the hype swirling around its creators, whether they’re tried-and-true comics stalwarts or hotshot scribes from other popular media? Is it the bells and whistles and exclusive gimmicks that come attached to them, provided you jump through the requisite pre-order hoops set before you by the creators and publisher? Or are there still those absolute psychos who simply pick up a new debut and hope to have an awesome reading experience that just might lead them towards their newest comics obsession? In order to gin up enthusiasm for a new series, does a first issue need to have a mountain of variant covers on top of kicking out a solid story with killer art—or even one?

I ask, because every week I scan Comics Twitter and it’s a ceaseless parade of carnival barkers hawking their wares in a crowded market and it seems like publishers are more willing to back up all this full-throated promotion if there’s something substantial attached to the project—like, say, a limited-edition vinyl pressing of some music you might (or might not) end up liking; or perhaps touting the first comics work by a young screenwriter who is also co-writing the next Batman movie. Are there examples of major publishers pushing a brand new, untested book with the same vein-popping brio as What’s the Furthest Place from Here? #1 or Batman: The Imposter [sic] #1? I haven’t seen it. And I look! I have a whole comics podcast where I talk about this stuff all the time.

Vault Comics, AHOY Comics, and AfterShock Comics are three great examples of a smaller publisher going for broke by backing all their new debuts, and pushing for press/retailer interest in new series even after the inevitable issue #2 sales drop-off. But Marvel? DC? Image? Unless there’s serious speculator heat on these books, or there’s a movie or television tie-in coming down the pike, or The New York Times or Vox begrudges a bit of coverage in the lead-up to the issue’s release, most new debuts from major publishers get the requisite “look, here’s what’s being solicited for this month” nudge, and then it’s almost like that first issue didn’t happen at all. The creators end up doing the lion’s share of the promotion. I wish I was old enough to remember how independent creators pushed new debuts with only the direct market and mags like Wizard and Comics Buyer’s Guide to rely on. Has social media made promoting new first issues easier, or harder? Is a book destined to underperform without those bells? Those whistles? God help me, why can’t I stop asking questions?

But at the end of the day, these are just stories. So how are What’s the Furthest Place from Here? #1 and Batman: The Imposter [sic] #1? Let’s take a quick look.

Plus! Something a little different this week: an interview with Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson concerning the upcoming trade collection of Undone by Blood: The Other Side of Eden, out November 3 courtesy of AfterShock Comics. Because I like doing interviews and I’m gonna try to do more whenever I can. Hope you enjoy it; interviews with Lonnie & Zac always end up being insightful/fun.

What’s the Furthest Place from Here? #1
Image Comics / $4.99
Written by Matthew Rosenberg.
Art by Tyler Boss.
Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.

Definitely a return to form for Those Who Made 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, replete with profane young’ns, a habitable (and tangible!) world, and wee li’l shock-bursts of violence. Image is being pretty strict about spoilers, so I’ll sum it up like this: The Warriors tossed into the usual oddball post-apocalyptic jazz with a serious boner for vinyl. Boss knows how to lay out an environment (the central locale, for this issue anyway, is a record store); the spaces these desperate folks inhabit feel real, helped quite a bit by Boss’ ability to fill a panel with a ludicrous amount of detail. Love staring at his layouts. Otsmane-Elhaou rounds out his letters and gives his balloons these strange, dangly tails that jibe with the softness of Boss’ work. Rosenberg juggles names at first, but you get the rhythms of these characters and the lay of the land before long. The last five pages will leave you drooling for the next issue, but there’s a lot to climb around to get there; WtFPfH #1 is a near 60-page debut that’s really only somewhere around 48 once you scratch out the portentous (and somewhat pointless) chapter-break pages, double-spread title pages, and the like. A story that is clearly important to the creators, ends up feeling important for the reader before the end. Good stuff, loud debut. (Available November 10; pre-order through your LCS.)

Western pulp novels, dog-eared and rolled into the back pockets of the poor souls who are about to make a life-altering decision: that’s the thrust behind the Undone by Blood series, written by Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, illustrated by Sami Kivelä, colored by Jason Wordie, and lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. The lasting effects of the Western myth and how the sheer romantic scope of it can still inform the way we perceive the way things are, or how they could, or should, be. Published by AfterShock Comics, Undone by Blood is an ambitious deconstruction of the Western genre, and its second volume, titled “The Other Side of Eden”, is set for a November 3 release. I spoke with Lonnie & Zac (in what has to be the sixth time added between the two of them) for a chance to dig a little deeper into the metatext of what is the prime example of this writing duo’s powers. Influence, research, Cormac McCarthy, that upcoming television show—it’s all here.

1. Vengeance is a big theme in ‘Undone by Blood’. In this second volume, “The Other Side of Eden”, your protagonist, Silvano Luna Del Rio, engages in something a bit different from your run-of-the-mill revenge: retribution from his adopted country by robbing a symbol of its industrial progress. What’s Silvano’s story, and how did you shape his story to fit the mold of ‘Undone by Blood’?

Lonnie Nadler: Well, I think it’s important to say first off that Silvano isn’t doing this strictly out of retribution. This isn’t a willful act of anti-americanism on his behalf or to get back at someone who wronged him. The point, without giving too much away, is that while Silvano is somewhat justified, he comes to learn that he doesn’t really have a great reason for what he’s doing. More than anything, he was pulled into this messy situation by someone who misled him into thinking it was for his own good. We always talked about it as a kind of anti-revenge story, one where Silvano finds himself on the other side of vengeance, making the whole thing feel a lot less romantic than traditional media makes it out to be. As for how we came to this idea, well context is everything. The book takes place in Texas during the Great Depression, right around the time of the Dust Bowl, so everyone in the story is desperate and down on their luck and dirt poor. That was kind of the starting point and from there we built out a character who we thought would be most interesting in this world, someone who could see it and understand it with simultaneous sympathy and exasperation. We read a lot of articles and books about Mexican immigration to America at the time (surprise it was mostly awful for them) and we had long conversations with people who could speak to that experience because we wanted to be sure we were capturing the era and the realities authentically without giving into pity porn. In the end, with Silvano and his journey, we wanted them to encapsulate both our affinity for and frustrations with the time period. 

Zac Thompson: Yeah, we’re essentially talking about a crime of opportunity spurred on by an idiot friend. We’ve all been there. Just like the first arc, Silvano’s using his interpretation of his western novel to help explain his actions. But as the story progresses, we see that lógica doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. 

We wanted to show that juxtaposition that comes with the romanization of vengeance against the harsh and messy reality of the 1930s. We read a lot about Hoover’s America and the hardships of living in the dust bowl. Like Lonnie said, it was an awful time for everyone. Silvano’s this perfect character that’s deeply entrenched in real history but often left out from the western genre (outside of stereotype or characteracture). 

At its core, most of the decisions we make in this book are “how do we subvert this from the expectations that come with the western genre?”

2. Let’s talk about research. When ‘Undone Vol. 2’ was in the planning stages, how did the two of you land on the final concept, where a man attempts to rob the first skyscraper west of the Mississippi? Do you agree to go off and research certain historical focal points such as period detail and accuracy, and reconvene and compare notes? How does co-writing stay on track when the story you’re writing isn’t entirely pulled out of whole cloth?  

LN: This is a good question. Luckily, as writers, Zac and I are very much attracted to the same things, whether it’s big details like how the book will end or little details like the kind of cars characters drive. We’ve been doing this for so long that the process is second nature and we don’t think about it or delegate too much anymore. When it came time to think about this second arc, we both wanted to make sure we were staying true to the themes of volume 1, while also taking the original concept to new places. Volume 1 was set in 1971 and we thought instead of moving forward in time, let’s move back a few decades to see how the myth of the American West impacted culture just after it was coming to an end. This was also during one of the country’s most difficult periods of struggle and disillusionment plays a big role in the series so it felt perfect. 

As far as research goes, once we decided the Great Depression was the period we were keen to explore, we both went off and started pulling tidbits from all kinds of places—books, articles, journals, etc. We toss them all into a shared document and pick and choose as we see fit as we go. Once we have all this research there are just elements that naturally shine through and easily fit into the story. The predominant thing that kept coming up in our research was just the sheer sense of desperation people felt. Like, not having any food, not even being able to afford liquor, or bullets, or cigarettes, all things that are so ingrained in the lexicon of Westerns. That became a driving force for us. And then we came across an article about the “first skyscraper West of the Mississippi” and found out it was really, truly owned by a wealthy fraternal brotherhood. We fictionalized a lot of that part in the book, but it’s still based in reality and it was too good to pass up. Zac and I are set on making sure that no matter how weird and pulpy the plot gets, that we’re not tampering with the overall history. Authenticity is key. Like, for example, any newspaper headline you see in the book is directly taken from a real newspaper of the period.

ZT: I spent a lot of time reading about Dashiell Hammett and his early detective novels. Hammet was actually a post-war private eye in the 1930s and his books had this scummy, down-and-out energy to them. There’s so much texture that comes with reading how someone’s life was at the time you’re setting your story. You can drill down to an emotional level and think about the complexities of a life in a different era. 

I think good historical fiction is all about building the scaffolding for your world with all those historical details from the time—making sure cars/buildings/clothing are period specific combined with that emotional lived-in quality. Lonnie and I have always believed in getting things from as close to the primary source as we can get, sometimes it’s literature from the era or its other things like reading one of Hoover’s presidential addresses—those sorts of things that people in that era were living through. We pretty much do anything we can to get into the head of someone living in the time.

3. The title, ‘Undone by Blood’, seems to fit the Western genre so completely. But those words, “undone by blood,” they’re primal, incredibly human, evocative of the cycle of violence and so many other things, other types of stories. And you’ve both said in the past that the volumes of ‘Undone by Blood’ can be read as stand-alones, like other comic anthology-type series, which opens up so many possibilities. So do you think there would ever come the possibility of taking the ‘Undone’ concept and applying it to other styles of pulp outside of the Western, such as quarter sci-fi novels or Mike Hammer murder mysteries or Shirley Jackson-style haunted house novellas? If not, why not? 

LN: That’s a really interesting concept and it’s not one we’ve considered to be honest. To us, the intent was to explore a single genre we love, which we don’t see too many deconstructionist takes on. So, we’ve built a world that is based around the fictional author, Elmer Lockwood, who wrote the pulp Western novels that exist in the series and each arc is set around one of those. It’s a fiction within a fiction within a fiction. For the time being this is about the lasting appeal and damage of Westerns. Maybe sometime down the line it would be interesting to explore how the Western leaks into other genres like the ones you mentioned. An astronaut reading an Elmer Lockwood novel in space does sound quite fun.

ZT: Yeah, in terms of keeping it within the Western genre we’ve talked about all kinds of different settings and time periods. The interesting thing about the cowboy and all the culture that comes with it is that it’s this predominantly American myth. America in 2021 still feels like a frontier country in the ways it flirts with gun violence. There’s one idea we’ve got about setting something in Florida that I really hope we get to one day. I’m dying to see Sami draw a world populated with hotdog skin, wraparound sunglasses, and unronic mullets.

4. Sami Kivelä, the artist of ‘Undone by Blood’ for two volumes now, has more than established the look of the series—Sami’s knack for laying out a comics page makes the metatextual nature of ‘Undone’ read incredibly well. How does Sami fit into the planning stages of ‘Undone by Blood’, and can we count on seeing his work in a possible third volume of the series?

LN: Sami is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated comic book artists working today. I’m not just saying this because I’ve worked with him on Undone by Blood, but I truly believe it after seeing his wizardry first hand. He has a sense for and an intelligence toward sequential storytelling that is a bit frightening at times. He knows how to layout a page in a way that is not merely interesting for the sake of it, but that augments the greater purpose of the page. Zac and I do our best to give Sami suggestions for layouts because we are quite obsessed with formalism too, but Sami almost always takes our ideas and pushes them further. As writers, it would be nearly impossible to describe some of the layouts that Sami puts on the page, and so we’re just grateful to have him as a big part of the team. The same goes for Jason [Wordie] and Hassan [Otsmane-Elhaou]. As for a third volume, if there is one, we’d never do it without the whole gang. 

ZT: Yeah, team UBB is a package deal. I don’t think we’d even consider doing an arc without everyone on board. Lonnie’s right; Sami is one of the best artists working right now. His storytelling on the page is impeccable and he has this effortless quality to even the most insane layouts. One day he’s going to blow up and own the comics industry, I’m sure of it. 

5. Let’s wrap this up by talking a bit about Cormac McCarthy, who is a tremendous influence on ‘Undone by Blood’. What’s the one book from McCarthy’s bibliography that you’d call your favorite, and what elements or moments in that particular story affect you the most? 

LN: Yeah, I make no attempt to hide my love for Cormac McCarthy. I believe he’s the greatest American novelist of our time. I know some people find his work, especially the earlier stuff, to be over-wrought and a bit self-indulgent, but I think that’s quite reductive and a little infantile. Nothing he does is without intent, and much like Undone by Blood, he both celebrates and takes the piss out of Western mythology. I go back and forth on which book of his is my favorite, but right now I’d have to say The Crossing. It’s about a boy who rescues a wild wolf and decides to take the wild animal back home, which is across the border in Mexico. It descends rather quickly from innocence to cruel reality. I think that sense of taking a noble act and watching it slowly devolve into chaos is something that unites a lot of his work, and something we tried to evoke in Undone by Blood, albeit in our own way. 

ZT: I read Blood Meridian right after graduating from university and getting ready for my PHD. No joke, the prose and storytelling in that novel was part of the reason I decided to drop out of grad school and focus on writing fiction. Maybe this doesn’t make sense but I didn’t know you could tell a story like Blood Meridian. The overwhelming carnage really spoke to me (I’m fucked up, I know) but I also felt like it communicated the real and relentless brutality of men in a way I hadn’t seen before. And it was rendered with the most playful styles I had ever read. It unlocked a door for me about the potential of art and storytelling that’s been with me ever since. 

6. Oh, I almost forgot, one more thing: any updates you’d like to share with me about the upcoming ‘Undone by Blood’ television series? I won’t tell anybody, I swear. 

LN: Things are moving along slowly but surely. That’s pretty much all we can really say at the moment. There’s been some exciting progress recently so keep your fingers crossed for us. 

ZT: Talks are happening! Things are developing! We are still involved! 

‘Undone by Blood: The Other Side of Eden’ TPB hits stores November 3; pre-order through your LCS.

Batman: The Impostor #1
DC / $5.99
Written by Mattson Tomlin.
Art by Andrea Sorrentino.
Colors by Jordie Bellaire.
Letters by Steve Wands.

Serious-pants Batman yarn that may or may not tie into that upcoming The Batman movie Tomlin also worked on. At times reads like a screenplay with the way the characters speak to each other and how scenes break down and interweave, but Sorrentino’s layouts figure things out. The outsized grit and gorgeous, nigh-operatic spreads makes this feel like an angrier, more vicious version of Busiek & Leon’s Creature of the Night, up to and including its revised versions of Bruce Wayne’s miniscule inner circle. (It does seem to be missing an Alfred, strangely enough.) Would very much appreciate it if you took it as seriously as it takes itself but then it tosses a Black Mask in leopard-print briefs at us, so who knows. The central drama (“what does Batman, you know, really mean“) is a tale as old as time and just as musty, but the images (powered by Jordie Bellaire’s precise colors) do stir up some confidence that this may end up someplace new, exciting, possibly awesome. Corporate cross-media self-promotion searching for meaning or maverick superhero higher art? You be the judge. (Available now.)

That’s all I got for this week. Read any good comics lately? Lemme know all about it in the comments or shoot me an email: jarrod@doomrocket.com.

More HOT PRESS:

HOT PRESS 10/6/21: A new format, an apology, some comics stuff, etc.

HOT PRESS 6/17/21: Paying for comics, summertime Sonic, ‘Planet-Size X-Men’

HOT PRESS 6/10/21: ‘Hey, Amateur!’ Eisner nom, Romero & Bellaire’s ‘Black Hammer Visions’