Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Surfing The Bleed Interview: Zuda's own Tony Trov and Johnny Zito

Tony Trov and Johnny Zito are the co-writers of the Harvey-nominated Zuda comic Black Cherry Bombshells, a bloody, joyous mixture of grindhouse cinema, female pro-wrestling and apocalyptic fallout. They recently launched a new Zuda series, LaMorte Sisters, which deals with the reformation of wayward young vampiric girls by a group of frightening Catholic nuns. They may also be the two best dressed men in comics.

Surfing the Bleed sat down with both men yesterday to talk about Black Cherry Bombshells, LaMorte Sisters, grindhouse cinema, crazy names and even the lord of the oceans, Aquaman. Without further ado, the Sufing the Bleed Interview: Tony Trov and Johnny Zito.

Surfing the Bleed: Welcome to Surfing the Bleed fellas. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

Tony Trov: Our pleasure. No trouble taking time away from our afternoon power naps to talk shop.

Johnny Zito: I feel charged.

Surfing the Bleed:
First off, are those actually your real names?!

Tony: No, mine was changed at Ellis Island. It was a class trip but I paid for the full tour package.

Johnny: My name and face are altered every four years to stay ahead of the credit card companies.

Surfing the Bleed:
Could you both give the readers a quick recap of your educational and professional backgrounds?

Johnny: We're graduates of Temple University with Masters from the School of Hard Knocks.

Tony: John started in political cartoons and I'm art department on film and tv productions.

Surfing the Bleed:
Do you remember what got you interested in comics in the first place? Was there a specific title that you read as a kid that made you think, "I want to make this when I grow up?"

Tony: It was the cover of MAD where Alfred E. Nuemann is on the dating game with Bobbit, Fisher and Tonya Harding. It was like, oh man, Cartoons are about real life.

Johnny: I skipped out on my own birthday party to buy Kingdom Come #4 as soon as it came out. That's when I knew this was a forever thing.

Surfing the Bleed:
So how did you guys both meet and what led to you decide to work together?

Johnny: We actually met at a comic shop but became friends a little later.

Tony: The writing picked up in film school. We were always taking projects too far.

Surfing the Bleed:
The two of you co-write your hit Zuda series Black Cherry Bombshells and your new series LaMorte Sisters. Can you tell us about the process of writing something together and how it goes from concept to finished product?

Tony: Black coffee and compromise.

Johnny: There's shame. Lots of shame.

Tony: We like to come at it from character and relationship. The high concept grows out of that.

Johnny: BCB is about being your own badguy and LaMorte is about growing up fast. The zombies and vampires are a helpful metaphor to that end.

Surfing the Bleed:
Do you find it easier to work with one another on projects? That is to say, is it a fairly organic process where both of you are taking cues from one another and operating in sync? Do the two of you ever disagree on the voice of a character or the direction an arc is taking?

Tony: Once the character is solid we're always trying to one up each other. To really push their personalities into the unexpected.

Johnny: We're on the same page about a lot of stuff because of our almost identical influences. Things like the Bombshells' baddie, The King.

Tony: She's a cross dressing, kung fu, Elvis impersonator. Who else is gonna run Vegas? Things like that are intuitive between us.

Johnny: We just wrote/produced a 48 Hour Film Project together; Kingpin of Pain. The script was put together in 19 minutes. Each of us typed at the same keyboard with only our left hands. The only communication necessary was a series of telepathic pulses.

Surfing the Bleed:
Black Cherry Bombshells has been described at times as a "zombie comic." Zombies have become almost cliche, safe even, in the world of genre fiction. Does it ever bother you that you're well-layered book with varied influences is being so generically labeled?

Johnny: Haters wanna hate, playas go to spaaace.

Tony: Horror is always cool. When people's mouths are open and screaming - that's when you shove a lil knowledge down their throats.

Johnny: There's a reason these iterations of the undead have been around so long. They say something about living people.

Tony: Zombies are the last NEW movie monster. The idea is still fresh. Zombies haven't even had a crossover with Abbot and Costello yet.

Surfing the Bleed:
I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories so I really enjoyed Black Cherry Bombshells. The book reads as an homage to horror punk, grindhouse cinema, and the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Personally, I feel like it has a lot in common with the works of Memphis filmmaker John Michael McCarthy (The Sore Losers). Are you guys a fan of his films? Was there an active decision to be so referential to those type of stories, to try and capture that specific mood and aesthetic?

Tony: We're fans of McCarthy's music videos. But I've never caught The Sore Losers.

Johnny: Our strongest influences are probably Go! Team and the Philly Roller Girls

Tony: Black Cherry Bombshells is experimental and super referential. We wanted to pour everything we loved about music, monsters and grindhouse into it as we could. We're 120 pages deep at

Johnny: Growing up there were still actual grindhouses in Philly. Tony had one down the street from him. Ninjas and Monsters were in constant rotation.

Surfing the Bleed:
You guys were recently nominated for a Harvey Award. It must be nice to get that sort of recognition for your work. Do you feel like web-specific content is starting to get more recognition in the industry?

Tony: Absolutely. The new distribution model is internet to comic book to movie.

Johnny: Or reverse. Inglorious Bastards had a web comic to promote it's release.

Tony: Zuda has two graphic novels out based on their web series Bayou and High Moon.

Johnny: Night Owls, another Zuda Comic, is coming out soon, too.

Surfing the Bleed:
A lot of fans still aren't overly familiar with what's going on over at Zuda. Can you explain the process to the readers and talk a bit about how (if at all) it's different writing for that format instead of traditional long-form comics pages?

Tony: Zuda is DC Entertainment's digital imprint. They publish original, creator owned web comics. Some of those web comics go to print. Look for them at Borders or on Amazon in graphic novels.

Johnny: The format is horizontal to fit the wide screen monitors all the kids are sporting. It presents more opportunity than challenges. We find it helps up maintain a cinematic pacing.

Surfing the Bleed:
You've got a new series coming out for Zuda called LaMorte Sisters. Give the fans a little preview of what they can expect from this book.

Tony: LaMorte Sisters is about a vampire orphanage run by a strict order of catholic nuns.

Johnny: It's a very personal story for us. It's about South Philly, Frienemies and faith.

Tony: We follow Maddie, she's just been turned into a vamp and she doesn't have a friend in the world.

Johnny: We update with new pages every Friday. Check it out at .

Surfing the Bleed:
You're joined on this book by Christine Larsen who has a style quite different from what we're used to on Black Cherry Bombshells. Can you talk a bit about what it's like to work with different artists on different titles and how, if at all, you have to change your style to get the best possible results out of a new collaboration?

Johnny: Christine's work is beautiful and really suits the scary intense atmosphere for LaMorte Sisters. Sacha's powerful cartoons on Black Cherry Bombshells make the violence palatable, even fun.

Tony: Big part of that is our colorist/letterer on BCB, John Daillare. He draws a mean desert sunset.

Johnny: We're lucky to work with such talented artists. Right now were kicking around an Aquaman idea with another Zuda creator/artist, Dan Govar.

Tony: Dan draws Azure, it's a sleek, undersea adventure so this is totally his thing. Plus we have a lot to say about Aquaman.

Surfing the Bleed: Well, that should just about do it guys. Thanks again for taking the time. We wish you the best of luck and continued success!

Tony: Guten tag.

Johnny: Aloha.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Pull List

Here's my pull list for the day of my birth, year 29.


Batman: Streets of Gotham #5
Power Girl #6
Supergirl #46

Well, that hardly seemed worth the effort.

Friday, October 16, 2009

In The Works - Aces Wild

Since this blog is supposed to be about my attempt to break into the comics industry as a writer, I thought I should start talking about some of my projects. So I'm starting a new feature called In the Works which I'll be using to highlight some of my current projects and hopefully get some feedback from you guys. The first installment of In the Works will feature my pulp concept, Aces Wild. Before I get started, I'll point out that all characters in the Aces Wild concept are property of myself, Brett Williams.

Without divulging too much, I can say that Aces Wild is primarily set in the 1930s. It focuses on a team of adventurers (one French, two American and one a British national by way of China) brought together by a coalition of allied nations and spearheaded by the British government. The program is based on an earlier British program that saw a great deal of success before the agent involved, Samuel Wilde, was killed in action. The Brits shelved the program for some time, but were convinced to dust it off and give it a new direction when they were approached by newly elected American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The group is tasked with fighting threats both scientific and supernatural, the sort of "keep it out of the papers" threats that are represented by mad scientists and secret criminal organizations.

On the surface that sounds a bit like Hellboy or B.P.R.D., but I assure you there are many differences. I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't influenced by those stories, but I have to admit that I had this concept in the back of my head before I'd ever read an issue of B.P.R.D. and before I'd read no more than the first Hellboy TPB. The main focus of the book is to offer my own take on the sort of high adventure stories that helped pave the way for the Golden Age of comics while also exploring a time period in history I feel has been fairly unexplored in the medium; the years leading up to WWII.

That period of history is one of my favorites and I really enjoy doing the research necessary to flesh out the world these characters will be adventuring in. I see this book as being a sort of combination of the over-the-top pulp storytelling of the 1930s and the military/political travelogue type of stories Brubaker's been telling in Cap for years now. Lofty goal? Sure, but I think I can accomplish it. It doesn't hurt that I've managed to pique the interest of friend and fellow creator Evan Shaner, whose artwork would be perfect for the story.

Finding a home for such a story could be the real challenge. Dark Horse already has B.P.R.D. and Hellboy, plus Umbrella Academy, which also has a pulp/adventure style to its storytelling. I doubt they'd be interested. I mentioned that I had a pulp concept to Chip Mosher when I met him in Baltimore and he told me that everybody is pitching pulp right now. But a good story prevails, right? And I think Aces is a great story. Evan and I talked briefly the other day about possibly showing it to Moonstone once we have something to show. If you're not familiar, they are doing some new things with the Spider, the Phantom and the Green Hornet. Pretty exciting stuff if you like pulp. Not sure if they want new properties, but it's worth a shot. I mentioned this idea to John Siuntres of World Balloon and he seemed to be in favor of it. So Moonstone, get ready to have your mind blown. Probably.

That's going to do it for the first In The Works. If you like the sound of this concept and want to hear more about it, just e-mail me at gbrettwilliams at gmail. I'd love to share this with some fellow creators and get your opinions on what I've got planned. Thanks a lot guys!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Baltimore Comic-Con Recap: Day Two

Day Two (Sunday) -
Sunday started off a little slower than Saturday had. We were all nursing a day of con funk and a night of drinking, so we all resigned ourselves to being a little late, Jon and I more than everyone else. Jay wanted to hit a couple of panels and get some shopping done in time to head out kind of early (he had a family obligation) so he took Jason and Dean down to the show and Jon and I hung back to have a hearty breakfast. By hearty breakfast I mean Bob Evans. This was my first trip to a Bob Evans and I must say, as far as hangover cures are concerned, it's pretty damn good.

After a breakfast the size of the greater D.C. area at the Bob Evans, Jon and I headed into the city. We were expecting traffic and parking problems due to the Ravens game at 1:00 o'clock that day, but it ended up not being a problem at all. Once inside the con I split up with Jon and found a quiet corner of a panel room to work on my questions for Jason Aaron. Once the questions were prepped I headed straight to the booth Jason was sharing with Matt Fraction and Jason Latour and sat down for our interview.

The interview went great, despite my technological failure. Jason's interview was the first one I'd done in person and I had to do it without a recorder. I tried using my phone's recorder, but the ambient noise was so overwhelming that there was no way to pick up his responses. It didn't occur to me till much later that I could have just videoed the entire thing. I soldiered on and the interview went great. Jason was a great guy and he had some great responses for my questions.

Once the interview was over I really only had one more thing I felt like I had to do; meet Mark Waid. Mark Waid is one of my top two favorite comic creators of all time. For me, Denny O'Neil and Mark Waid define superheroes. Getting the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him for the effect he's had on me as a fan and a creator was a very important part of this trip for me. So I headed over to the BOOM! table and introduced myself. As brief as the meeting was, it was very successful. You never know what people with a fair amount of celebrity are going to be like. When you respect someone creatively, you have a tendency to build them up in your head, and unfortunately the reality of the person can sometimes be a disappointment. That is not the case with Mark Waid. I told him that Kingdom Come was the book that got me back into comics as a teenager, that I'd been a huge fan of everything he'd done as a creator, that I had a ton of respect for BOOM! Studios and most importantly, that he was my largest creative influence. Mark Waid is the reason I want to write comics. His reaction? Extremely positive. You can tell that the man really loves the medium and the fans. He was so happy, so excited to hear me say those things and he was genuinely happy to meet me. He even took my card and promised to give the blog a look. That would have been great in and of itself, but as I was leaving Chip Mosher made a point to stop what he was doing, come down to the end of the booth, shake my hand and tell me thanks for supporting the company.

Maybe the above reads like some fanboy having a thoroughly fanboy moment, but it was more than that to me. Sure, it was great to meet Mark Waid and even better to have my opinion of him justified, but that's not the best part. The best part was just how comfortable I felt in that position, standing there talking to him and feeling like he treated me as an equal. Even though all I've published so far is one strip of Dean's webcomic Butterfly, Mark treated me with the same reverence he would give an industry veteran. Mark Waid loves comics and he loves that young people still want to make comics. For me, that was extremely uplifting. Chip making a point to come down and tell me thanks was the icing on the positive energy cake. It may not seem like much, but for a guy trying to break into the industry as a writer (a notoriously hard thing to do) even that tiny gesture, that brief recognition was enough to fuel my creative will for a good long while. Seriously people, BOOM! Studios are the good guys.

At that point, my con weekend was over. At some point shortly before or shortly after my introduction to Mark Waid I stopped at that giant t-shirt retailer and bought a t-shirt with the Nightwing logo. I suppose I was feeling young, headstrong and heroic, just like Dick Grayson. With business cards in the hands of creators such as Mark Waid and Walter Simonson, some memorable feedback from Chip Mosher and Bernie Wrightson (they both thought Wendigo sounded like a cool idea) and a Nightwing t-shirt (blue is my color) I felt ready to put the convention hall behind me. So I left Jay to his panels and his shopping and went back across the street to The Nest, where Jon and I spent the rest of the day watching football. Jay stopped by to show off some goodies and say his goodbyes before he got out of town and Jon and I bellied up to the bar with one of the nicest and strangest sports bar crowds I'd ever encountered. Baltimore is wacky place, but I really did like it a lot.

At the end of the convention day, Jon and I hooked back up with Dean, Jason, Danielle and Jessi and coordinated a trip down to the harbor for some food. We found exorbitant parking and proceeded to march to our destination which turned out to be a monstrous walk from where we'd parked. By the time I got to the restaurant where we were meeting some other cartoonists, I'd decided that all I wanted for dinner was two glasses of bourbon. Oh, don't get all high and mighty. I'd eaten already at The Nest.

The dinner was casual, the night air brisk. I loaned Danielle my hoodie and that bought me hugs at the end of the night, which was doubly nice since it was largely unexpected. At the end of it all we said our goodbyes, sent Dean and Jason off with their friends and Jon and I went back toward the hotel. We wanted to keep drinking (since we knew the Colts were going to destroy our beloved Titans) so we stopped into a bar that also functioned as a package store. This was the same bar, Howard's, that Jon and Jay had discovered on our first night in town. Jay was so impressed with Howard's that he actually spent the majority of this time in Baltimore trying to convince Jon that he had to convince me to forgo all activities and drink at Howard's instead. That would have been career seppuku, but I can see now why he was so adamant about it. Howard's was the most amazing bar I'd ever seen in my life.

It was all red leather, wood paneling and neon signs, with women older than your mother pulling the taps and men that could have been your grandad bellied up to the bar. It was like something straight out of a 1970s crime film, the sort of place where poker games and shady deals get done in the back room. It was beautiful, it was glorious and it was custom built for guys like Jon Burr and I. I took one look at the place and decided we had to stay and watch the game there (which I'm sure Jon knew would happen).

The patrons were nice, the staff were great, the beer was cold and cheap, the game was...well, not everything could be perfect. Jon and I got a comfortable drunk, relaxed, had a heart to heart, made some new friends and even played this arcade bowling game that defies description. Of all the things I saw in Baltimore (including the bum eating leaves off a tree like a panda), Howard's is the thing I'll remember best. It was the bar from Heaven.

The Trip Back Home (Monday) - The next morning we all rose pretty early. Jon, Jason and I said our goodbyes to Dean then got on the road. The trip back home seemed to last so much longer than the trip up had, but I suppose that's almost always the case. I did most of the driving again, which tends to be for the best on long trips. I'm kind of a control freak in the car so I always feel a lot more comfortable behind the wheel. That's not to say Jon or Jason are bad drivers. Far from it. I just can't stand riding. So I drove us most of the way home, with Jason coming in for relief when I was just too tired to go on. The trip back was a lot of fun, as exhausted as we all were. I really felt like I got to know Jason a lot better, which was nice. I'd hung out with him a few times over the course of my friendship with Dean but I'd never had enough time alone with him to really get to know him. I liked him a lot in passing and liked him even more so after getting a chance to spend some real time with him. He's a good travel partner, as is Jon. By the end of the trip I felt like I knew them both a lot better and that I was better for it.

All in all, the trip to Baltimore was a rousing success. Sure I'm still unemployed and we're still struggling for money, but at least people are starting to take note of what I'm doing and who I am. I know more people in the industry this time than I did at the end of NYCC and I'm constantly making new friends and new contacts. I've got people offering me great insight into my work, great advice on what to expect in the future and great discussion about square jawed heroics (and maybe even a little sports). So for the guys who made this possible, thank you, for the excellent travel companions, you were awesome and for those of you coming to the blog for the first time, welcome to my world. It's nice to have you along for the ride.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Baltimore Comic-Con Recap: Day One

The Trip Up (Friday) - The trip up to Baltimore went a whole lot quicker than we expected it to. Jon, Jason and I piled into the car early on Friday morning and hit the road. There was some music listened to, a lot of comic book discussion and even a little bit of football talk (though Jason didn't have a ton to contribute to that). Jon was introduced to fruit leather, Jason mocked my love of bologna and I did (most of) the driving. When we got to town we (read Jon and I) were too hungry and too in need of beer to sit still at the luxurious Red Roof Inn, so we went to the only place out by the BWI that was open; The Ruby Tuesday.

I hadn't eaten at a Ruby Tuesday in at least a decade, probably more. They've got burgers, ya know? Like, a metric ton of burgers. So I ate one and it was alright, if only because I was so travel-hungry I was nearly delirious. Jon ate steak and shrimp and I don't know how many sides and this was at, I don't know, ten that night, maybe later? So we're eating and then Dean's plane gets in and he joins us, then Jay rolls into town and heads to the RT as well. Beers, food, even some cheesecake (we're a healthy lot) were had and then we headed back to the Red Roof to crash. Jon and me in one bed, Dean and Jason in the other and Jay on the floor. That's right, folks. Aspiring comics creators live pretty high on the hog. Don't forget it.

Day One (Saturday) -
We rolled out of bed early enough to grab a quick bite to eat from McGarbage before heading into the city. Jay was handling the driving (I opted out after having driven over ten hours the day before) which meant that he was handling the drive-thru at the restaurant. Jay had apparently never been to a drive-thru. Ever. IN HIS LIFE. So after a drive-thru trip worthy of the Keystone Cops, the five of us headed into Baltimore and promptly ran into a wall of traffic caused by the street closures for the Baltimore marathon. This caused even more confusion, which was eventually conquered after a near detour toward New York.

Once at the con, Jason and Dean broke off to try and find their way onto a table (they did, thanks to Kids Love Comics) and Jay, Jon and I set off to do our own thing. My first thing that morning was talking to Jason Aaron and trying to set up an interview for sometime during the weekend. He was a really nice guy and was more than willing to give me some time the next day to run some questions past him for the blog. After that, Jon, Jay and I decided to walk the floor. Their geek eyes lit up wide at the site of all the comic books for sale, but I hemmed them both in, reminding them that whatever they saw on sale on Saturday would be even cheaper at the end of the day on Sunday. Not long afterward we split up, agreeing to meet back up later for the George Perez panel.

I was really impressed with Baltimore right off the bat. It was obvious that Baltimore was a convention about comic books, not just a massive multimedia expo using the medium of comics as an excuse to launch video games and hype Twilight films. The floor was filled to capacity almost exclusively with retailers and creators. Baltimore is a con that's still devoted to comic books. There were so many great deals on comics (even though I didn't take advantage of them) and a ton of face time with creators (which I certainly did take advantage of). Aside from meeting Jason Aaron that day, I also met Chip Mosher, head of marketing at BOOM! Studios. If you've been reading this blog then you know I'm a huge fan of BOOM. They have a great mixture of horror, adventure, superhero and kids comics, they're run by a group of guys who really know and love comics and most recently they've had a real knack for hiring my friends (see Ming Doyle and Dean Trippe). I stopped by the table because I knew Mark Waid was supposed to be around. As I showed up, a young couple was asking Chip why Mark Waid wasn't there and when they could expect to find Mark Waid. Chip gave them the requested information and they went along their way. So I walked up and asked him how many people that morning had been annoyed that he wasn't Mark Waid.

"Oh, I could never be Mark Waid. Mark Waid has far too much char-as-ma." Char-as-ma? "What do you think, Mike?" Mike was Michael Alan Nelson, the creative mind behind Fall of Cthulhu, which rivals Hellboy for the best "inspired-by-Lovecraft" comic I've ever read.

"Definitely char-as-ma." This was an inside joke. I was privy to a BOOM inside joke. So far this was going well. Then Chip tried to read my badge. As you can see from the picture above, isn't that easy to read. Chip was having trouble. But that's okay, because I had these awesome new business cards.

So I gave Chip a business card and things were suddenly a lot clearer. "You're a writer? What do you write?" I explained to him the purpose of the blog and that I was trying to break in to the industry. That's when he informed me that they were on a new talent freeze till 2011, but I was undeterred. I wanted some feedback. So I ran a few concepts past him and got the feedback I wanted. Then he told me thanks for being interested in the company and that he'd check the site out and maybe we could set up some interviews with some of their talent. So, ya know, cross your fingers.

I also took this time to re-introduce myself to Danielle Corsetto, she of the Girls With Slingshots fame. She recalled lending me her couch back in February. It also allowed me the chance to finally meet Jessi (Awesome), one of the two members of Team Awesome that I hadn't met in person yet. I found her (as most people seem to) instantly charming and her official Baltimore Comic-Con sign was infinitely impressive. I tried to buy some prints from Danielle but they had a slight change crisis. All is well though, as I came back later for some awesomeness on the cheap.

A few more laps around the building and it was time for some panel watching. Jon, Jay and I sat in on the George Perez panel which might have been good if we could hear it, but unfortunately the panel set-up at Baltimore left something to be desired. I guess maybe the economy limited the amount of money they could spend on conference space, but for whatever reason the panel rooms were set up at the front of the convention floor with only temporary dividers to separate them from themselves and from the floor itself. So as you can imagine there was quite a lot of ambient noise. Add to that the fact that the sound system in the room with the Perez panel was constantly on the fritz and things were almost impossible to hear. So we bailed long enough to do a little more walking, window shopping and creator greeting then reconvened for the Comics in the 70s panel that followed Perez.

Luckily for us they managed to fix the sound system enough to hear things and boy were there things to hear. The panel consisted of some of mine, Jon and Jay's favorite creators. The 1970s is possibly my favorite period of comics creation ever, so this was a particular joy for me. The panel consisted of my favorite creator, Mark Waid, moderating a discussion about the era with Bernie Wrightson, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Steve Englehart and Walt Simonson. There was honesty, reverence, bitterness and humor abound. Each creator told their stories of breaking in and related some of their favorite moments from working during that exciting leap forward in comics. There were dead stewardesses, art crawls, Stan Lee wackiness and werewolves so good that upped the ante. I could explain all that, but trust me when I say you had to be there.

After that was done the three of us headed to The Nest, a sports bar across the street from the convention. Jon and I camped out, made friends with the bartender and watched some football till it was time to meet back up with Dean, Jason, Danielle and Jessi. The day wrapped up and they went off to the Harvey Awards dinner while Jon, Jay and I went pub crawling.

We ended up down the road a bit in a nice little area full of pubs and restaurants. The first place we stopped into was called Illusions. It was a 50s style lounge with a magic theme that had a big bar, lots of red, floor to ceiling illusionist posters and a nightly magic performance. There was supposed to be comic shop grand opening party there that night, but it started later than we'd arrived and the place was still pretty dead. So we decided to head across the street to a little dive that looked nice from the street, but it was misleading. The front looked like a simple, down to Earth pub but the back was a mewling throng of no-neck fratboys listening to the loudest music one could possibly listen to. Seriously, it was like a theme restaurant whose theme was Frat House. So we had a beer and got out, which was fine because by then it was time to head down to the Marriott for the Harvey Awards.

It was a fun experience to go to the Harveys but I had more fun hanging with Jay, Dean and the guys in the back of the room, acting as something of a peanut gallery than I had actually watching the awards. It was nice to see some great books getting the recognition they deserved though. Jon bailed early and went down to the hotel's bar to hang out. We joined him after the Harveys and had a blast, despite the exorbitantly priced booze and the overwhelmed bar staff. I got to spend some more time chewing the fat with Jason Aaron, met and had a great conversation with John Siuntres of the podcast Word Balloon, shared a great (if brief) conversation with Walt Simonson, cracked a few jokes with Jason Latour and made friends with a fellow Titan fan from Colorado. It was a very productive day and a great night. Day Two would be even better.

The Surfing the Bleed Interview: Jason Aaron

Jason Aaron is the Eisner Award-nominated writer of Scalped, The Other Side, Wolverine, Ghost Rider and Punisher MAX. I got a chance to sit down with the man this past weekend at the Baltimore Comic-Con and ask him a few questions about his process, his background and breaking into the industry. Unfortunately, I left my recorder at home and had to do the interview 1920s-style, with a notebook, a pen and a good ear. If it's any consolation, it did inspire this rap;

I'm a bonafide classic, don't call me Jurassic,
I'm bringing comic greatness to the expectant masses.

You know you want to hire me. You know it.

Without further ado or rapping, the Surfing the Bleed Interview: Jason Aaron.

Surfing the Bleed: Thanks for taking the time today Jason. I'll get right to it so you can get back to signing some books. So, when you were younger, did you always think, I want to write comics someday? Was that always your goal?

JASON AARON: No, not at all. Early on, maybe it was. I mean, I was always a fan. I think my mom was buying me comics before I could even read. But it was never something I really considered as a career. I had no idea how you could even break into comics. I guess I thought you had to live in New York City to do it, and at the time I suppose you probably did. So I went to college, majored in journalism, and spent time writing some short stories, reviewing movies, that sort of thing. My first introduction to comics was the Marvel Talent Search, which I won with my pitch for a Wolverine story. But even then, it was a while before I really broke in. My first work after that eight page Wolverine story (which resulted from winning the Talent Search) was The Other Side for Vertigo. But that didn't come right after Wolverine. I mean, I won that talent search in 2002 and I didn't get The Other Side published until 2006.

But were you trying to get published again during that time period? Were you actively pitching The Other Side?

JA: Yeah. I pitched The Other Side to a few publishers and kept getting turned down. But I was encouraged to stick with it and eventually Vertigo got interested in the project and made it happen.

Now you're writing an ongoing series for Vertigo, Scalped. I'm a big fan of the book. You've created this very intriguing crime epic that is equal parts Raymond Chandler and Robert Rodriguez. Considering the success of Scalped, have you ever considered taking a break from the medium to write crime fiction?

JA: Sure, I've thought about it. But right now, you know, I've only been writing comics for three years. I still feel really new at this and there is still a lot I want to do. I wouldn't want to jeopardize that by trying to break away from it for any period of time. I do love the genre and I think, maybe sometime down the road I might try my hand at that, or at screenwriting, but right now I'll stick to comics.

Scalped was originally pitched as a retelling of the Scalphunter character created by Sergio Aragones and Joe Orlando in Weird Western Tales. How much of an influence were those DC Western titles on you as a writer? Were you a big fan of them growing up?

JA: I read Jonah Hex quite a bit, but I wasn't a huge fan of those books as a whole.

So did the Scalphunter pitch come along more because you were trying to find an obscure character that nobody else was working on at the time? I've always heard that one way to get your pitch noticed is to come up with some fresh take on a nearly forgotten character.

JA: Yeah, definitely. That is a good way to get your pitch some attention and that is what was happening with Scalped.

STB: So what was Scalphunter like before it morphed into Scalped, and how did that transformation take place?

JA: Originally it was going to take place in the modern day. The story was going to follow the main character in the modern day and flash back to the 19th century. It was all sort of spur of the moment. My editor Will Dennis encouraged the change. We determined that naming it Scalphunter didn't really buy us much. Sure, maybe five guys who were huge fans of that character would pick up the book, but it might have diffused the overall impact of the book. So Scalphunter became Scalped.

I know you're a big fan of 70s cinema. On that subject, I feel like I can recognize a big Sam Peckinpah influence in your work, especially on Scalped. Were his films a big influence on you as a storyteller?

JA: I'm definitely a big fan of Peckinpah, but that's just sort of a happy accident. I suppose subconsciously I probably do try to get that sort of mood out of my stories, but it's not something I do actively. Maybe Guera does that a bit more consciously.

Do you have a favorite Peckinpah film? You know, other than The Wild Bunch?

JA: Yeah, it's easy to say The Wild Bunch. I'm a really big fan of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, those movies.

The 70s was a great time for that sort of gritty, bare knuckle style of storytelling. As far as comics are concerned, it was a time period when the storytelling took a big leap forward. Guys like Chris Claremont, Denny O'Neil, et al really took the kitsch and the cheese out of comics and introduced a more realistic approach to the characters. Is that time period a big influence on your work today?

JA: I read a lot of that stuff and definitely filed it all away. Denny O'Neil's Batman was a favorite, as were the Thor stories by Walter Simonson, Swamp Thing by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, and then later Alan Moore's stuff with the character. So yeah, that stuff was all a favorite of mine.

So far in your time at Marvel you've written Wolverine, Ghost Rider and Punisher. You're starting to get a reputation as the go-to guy for those darker, more conflicted heroes. Is there something about those type of characters that appeal to you more than, say, something like Captain America or Spider-Man, or have you just had enough success with anti-hero stories that editorial has sort of pushed you in that direction?

JA: A little bit of both. You know, I came into Marvel through Axel Alonso and those were the books he worked on, so that's what I got. There is a lot of freedom to writing characters like Logan, Frank Castle, Johnny Blaze. It is really liberating, really fun to write those kind of stories. But that's not to say that I wouldn't love to write a character like Captain America or that I don't have ideas in mind for those type of characters. I would like to write that kind of stuff and you will see me do that in the future. I don't want to just be the guy who writes the characters who stab people to death on every page.

The real focus of this site is breaking into comics. I try to get different perspectives on the ups and downs of making it into the industry. You're the first interview I've had with a creator who just handles the writing side of the story. The perception among aspiring comic writers is that it's often easier for artists to get a break since their work has that immediate impact. It's a piece of visual artwork you can hold in your hand and instantly critique. Do you have any advice geared specifically toward writers who maybe sometimes feel like it's hard to break in?

JA: You just have to be able to put in the work necessary to make something really worthwhile. When I was pitching The Other Side I was writing all the time. Going over the script again and again, researching constantly, just making sure that what I put out there was the best possible story I could pitch. And you have to have a story that you can really stand behind, something that you really want to tell. For instance, The Other Side was a story that felt different to me, a story that was personal enough that I felt like I was the only person who could tell it.

In my experience, the comics industry seems to be very inclusive. Personally, I've had no trouble approaching creators about their work, getting feedback and advice from various editors, etc. Did you find that to be the truth when you were trying to break in? And now that you are writing comics fulltime, is that your impression of the industry?

JA: Oh yeah. You know, three years ago I was just a fanboy like anybody else, then almost overnight I was creating comic books. And I was at cons, on trips with all these guys that I respected and they were totally inclusive, totally helpful. I was the new guy and you never know how people are going to react, how they're going to feel about you, but everyone was really gracious. And now, I live in Kansas City and we've got such a great community of creators and fans there. I feel great about being in the industry.

Alright! That's going to do it for now. I'll let you get back to the convention. Thanks again for taking the time out of your day to do this, Jason.

JA: Not a problem! Thanks a lot!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Baltimore Comic-Con: The Panels

In anticipation of the trip to Baltimore next weekend for the Baltimore Comic-Con, I thought I'd give a preview of a few of the panels I'm looking forward to.

Saturday, Oct. 10th
Avengers Mansion

11:00 - 12:00 Kids Love Comics Presents: Comic Book Carnival for Kids -
If you're not familiar with Kids Love Comics, you should be. They're an organization devoted to helping build the next generation of comics fans in an industry that has been downright woeful at gaining new readership over the last decade. In a nutshell, they fight the good fight. At this particular panel event, they'll have some of the industry's best kids book talent (John Gallagher [Buzzboy], Join Franco [Tiny Titans], Andy Runton [Owly]) on hand offering a workshop to children interested in learning to draw for comics. The folks at KLC take this job very seriously and they always present a lot of fun activities for kids and parents alike, so if you've got a little one with you next weekend in Baltimore, I highly suggest stopping by the Mansion for a little fun.

The Batcave

12:30 - 1:30 Spotlight on George Perez -
An hour long retrospective and Q & A with one of the industry's most prolific illustrators? Sounds like a blast to me. Perez, the undisputed king of fitting an obscene amount of characters onto one page, will be discussing his years working for both Marvel and DC. That work includes iconic runs on The Avengers, Crisis On Infinite Earths and Wonder Woman. Most recently, Perez teamed up with Geoff Johns for the critical darling, Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds. This should be an hour well spent for any lifelong comics fan.

1:30 - 2:30 Comic Rewind: The 70s - Oh man, oh man, oh man! I am so excited about this panel I can hardly contain myself. In my opinion, the 1970s is a real high water mark for superhero comics. The decade that gave us the brilliance that was Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams must always be mentioned as one of (if not the) best decades in comics history. The 1970s gave us a better Bat, a roadtrip of epic (and very green) proportions, a new class of mutant and a shambling verdant mass that would become one of the most acclaimed characters in comics history. This panel will feature some of the creators responsible for this great shift forward, including Chris Claremont (X-Men), Len Wein (Swamp Thing) and Walt Simonson (The Mighty Thor). To cap it off, the panel is moderated by comic historian, editor and writer extraordinaire, Mark Waid. I'll see you there!

3:30 - 4:30 Spotlight on Wednesday Comics - Wednesday Comics was an ambitious project that met with a great deal of critical, as well as fanboy, acclaim. This panel will feature some of the creators from editor Mark Chiarello's latest success, including Andy Kubert (Sgt. Rock) and Mike Allred (Metamorpho). What I find most exciting about this panel though is the inclusion of editor Mark Chiarello as the moderator. Chiarello is one of the most exciting and talented people in comics. The projects he takes on are some of the most innovative in the business and I am fairly in awe of his talent. I might, just possibly, be considering approaching him with my The Question pitch. Am I crazy?

Sunday, Oct. 11th
Avengers Mansion

12:00 - 1:00 Marvel: Your Universe - Tom Breevort puts his own head on the chopping block and turns the microphone over to the fans for a bit of lively discussion. In an interesting twist on the big company panel, the Your Universe panel is meant to act as a soapbox for fans to express their own opinions about the direction that Marvel is taking. Do you think Agents of Atlas deserves more attention? Let 'em know. Do you think that bringing Steve Rogers back was an awful idea (it was)? Let 'em have it! This hour of opinion slinging could be the most entertaining hour you'll spend all weekend. Better bring your gloves! Fanboys are a rowdy bunch.

The Batcave

11:30 - 12:30 DC Conversation w/ Ian Sattler -
Do you prefer DC to Marvel? If so, maybe you'll want to wait till 11:30 and hit up the DC Conversation with Ian Sattler. The DC equivalent of the Your Universe panel from Marvel, Sattler will be on hand to field all your questions (and attempt to deflect your ire) about the current state of DC comics. I'm sorry, DC Entertainment. Unimpressed with Blackest Night? Think that Barry Allen should have stayed dead? Not digging Batman: Reborn? Well, here's your chance to let 'em know. On a related note, these discussions can also be used as a vehicle to express your positive opinions. Just putting that out there.

12:30 - 1:30 Spotlight on Jo Chen - This spotlight panel would be exciting enough if it were just Jo Chen. Add to it the fact that Jose Villarubia is the moderator and you've got a can't miss event. If you're a fan of either of these creators (and you should be a fan of both) then make sure you clear your lunchtime schedule. After all, that hot dog cart will still be there at 1:30.

Baltimore looks to be a great con. From what I can tell, it appears to be more about celebrating the people who make comics and the people who read them than creating a giant pop culture circus. As much as I loved NYCC this year, I'm more excited about Baltimore. Perhaps it's that my comics acumen (and my resume) is better now than it was back in February, and that's making me more confident about being thrust back into this environment. Whatever the reason, I'm very excited. This will be my first con ever where I'm trying to pitch things on the floor (or over beers) and (hopefully) getting editorial feedback in the process. Wish me luck, true believers! It's going to be a blast!

Friday, October 2, 2009

My Friend Barry

I'd like to tell you about my friend Barry. To say that Barry is a talented artist is simply an understatement. To say that Barry is one of the most talented designers and illustrators I've ever met (and I've met more than a few) probably still wouldn't cover it. If I had to choose one word to describe Barry, it would be amazing.

Not just a great artist, Barry is also a good friend. On the long list of truly moving things people have said to me or about me, Barry is featured more than once. As a person and a creator, I have nothing but respect for this friend.

Recently, Barry's had the good fortune to work for such comics publications as Popgun and the Boom Studios adaptation of Diablo Cody's Jennifer's Body. But that's just the tip of the iceberg for my pal. As the months roll by, the job offers roll in, and Barry becomes one of the most sought after artists in the business.

By the way, Barry is a girl.

See how I was able to talk about her without mentioning her appearance? I mean, you'd think it was simple or even, I don't know, expected considering the ease with which I accomplished it.

Your assessment of a person's talent shouldn't be contingent upon their gender or whether you find them attractive. The kind of things Ming creates don't come from her fashion sense (which is impeccable), her choice in eyewear (which is inspired) or her features. To wax poetic, they come from inside, from the heart, from the soul,

I'd hope that the people who read this blog understand that.

If you'd like to find out more about my friend Ming Doyle (and I suggest you do) you can check out my interview with her here and/or visit her at her website.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Surfing the Bleed Reviews Robot 13 #2

The first issue of Robot 13 by write Thomas Hall and artist Daniel Bradford broke onto the scene to a chorus of critical acclaim. Marrying the action and mystery inherent to a Robert E. Howard story to Mignola-esque images, the first issue of Robot 13 did not disappoint. If anything, it left you wanting much, much more. Lucky for us, the second issue delivers.

In issue two, the lonely and enigmatic Robot 13 returns to battle, this time against a fairly aggressive phoenix. While it's still not clear at the end of the issue why our mechanical protagonist keeps drawing the ire of these mythological beasts, it is revealed that his ass-kicking, no-name-taking way of dealing with the problem is ruffling a few, um...well...arms.

While you could argue that the first issue of Robot 13 was sparse, I think you'd be missing the point. Hall's script for the first book created a big, epic, thundering battle that would leave the reader with a lot of questions to be answered. It was a smart move on the part of the writer, creating a great hook and a great character without revealing too much about the story right off the bat. Hall is a pusher and what he's pushing is Robot 13. So far, he's doing a hell of a job.

In issue two he jumps right in, peeling back another layer from the character and gives us a little taste of the rich, detailed myth he's weaving here. He also introduces us to what appears to be the title's villain, a sufficiently creepy insectoid-woman that is none too happy about the robot's victories over her "children." Hall is pulling from various myths and fairytales to create something original and engaging, building a world and a mythology all his own.

And then there's the art. While Daniel Bradford's style is reminiscent of Mike Mignola, it would be wrong to dismiss it as derivative. In much the same way that his partner Thomas Hall is culling his various influences into something new, Bradford is taking those artistic influences and weaving them into something that we haven't seen from this style before. His figures appear haunted, pulled down by the weight of the dangerous world in which they live, whether it be ancient Crete or a Depression-era fishing boat. An expert at creating mood with his pencils and his colors, Bradford's art on Robot 13 easily invokes the confusion, the terror and the otherworldliness of the events unfolding. But what he excels at is the action. Robot 13 is a book about action, about combat, and Bradford brings that combat to brutal life. In issue two, the combat between 13 and the phoenix takes up almost half the book, with big, sweeping pages that convey so much movement in so little space. You can feel the blows, taste the burning air, feel the wind whipping past you as the two figures plummet toward the moutains below.

With a great combination of action and mystery, Robot 13 is a book with tons of potential. Talk to your local comic shop about ordering some copies so you can evangelize the work of Misters Hall and Bradford. If you need more information about the creators, their website can be found here.

Enjoy the book and help support independent creators.