Monday, November 30, 2009

The Surfing the Bleed Interview - Joy Taney

Joy Taney is a writer and artist currently interning at Gaijin Studios, the home of such talent as Laura Martin, Brian Stelfreeze and Cully Hammer. A child of two musicians and a graduate of the prestigious Savannah College of Art and Desgin, Joy has creativity in spades. She sat down with me over the holidays for this very candid interview. Enjoy!

Surfing the Bleed:
Welcome to Surfing the Bleed, Joy. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Let's get started!

Joy Taney:

Surfing the Bleed: Your parents were both musicians. You say that you grew up moving in and out of various folk music scenes. Does that mean your family uprooted a great deal, moved from city to city?

Joy Taney: We actually didn't move around that much. We did spend a lot of time in my father's station wagon driving all over the Northeast US, though. I spent a fair amount of my childhood in the backseat with a bunch of instruments.

Surfing the Bleed: What sort of an affect did that have on you as a child? Is there a part of that sort of gypsy lifestyle that you believe made you more aware of the "real world" and taught you more about life and people? That is to say, do you feel that having a non-traditional childhood made you a better storyteller?

Joy Taney: I consider myself extremely lucky to have experienced a childhood immersed in the artist community. I was exposed to the professional lives of literary, performing, and visual artists, and any expression of my own creativity was rewarded. I even played bass for the band for four years. Growing up in that environment made me think differently from the other kids my age, which helped with the originality of the stories I wrote and drew. It also prepared me for the hardships of being a professional artist.

Surfing the Bleed: You attended the Pennsylvania Governor's School of Excellence for the Arts when you were young. Can you speak a bit about the experience you had there and how it helped you develop as an artist?

Joy Taney: PGSA was the moment when I decided to be a comic book creator over being a writer. I always knew I wanted to tell stories. It was also the first place where I saw individuality being rewarded by my peers, which for a high schooler was pretty different. It was a magical experience. I have a distinct memory of coming back from the ER--I had this horrible ear infection--and being blown away by the kids setting up sheets in the grotto so they could project a movie on them and watch a life-sized Fantasia. We all had this deep love of the arts that united us, the dancers, writers, musicians, actors and artists. I keep in contact with some of the people I know through there, but not enough. I recently did a photo shoot with my fellow PGSA alumnus, Nathan Kuruna.

Surfing the Bleed: Does it disappoint you to see that the program for 2009 had to canceled due to the current abysmal state of the economy?

Joy Taney: It breaks my heart. For those of us that went to PGSA that didn't already know we wanted to go into the arts, that was the clincher. It means less lifelong artists.

Surfing the Bleed: You mentioned to me that you had a pretty tough set of years in your teens. Your mother succumbed to cancer, your grandfather to Parkinson's, and you yourself suffered from a chronic illness. It was that series of hardships that you say lead you down the path toward comics. I know it's not easy to recall, but could you talk about that time period in your life, what was affecting you, and how you eventually turned to comics to help you through that time?

Joy Taney: The worst period of my life was from when I was 14 to 19. First we discovered I had reflex sympathetic dystrophy (learn more at, which is a nervous system disorder that causes me to be in constant pain. Then my mother had a seizure that led us to learning she had a brain tumor, then my grandfather developed Parkinson's, and became verbally abusive to the people he loved. My mother and grandfather died six weeks apart, just months after I moved away for college. Comics were my escape. I would be lying in bed, in intense pain, but I'd still be able to draw. I made comics about my mother's cancer. I worked on stories where I created situations similar to the ones I was going through, and where it was safe to work through the ordeal without anyone telling me what was appropriate or how I should be feeling. When I was in pain, my stories would examine illness. When my mother died, I killed off my favorite characters. It was an exhausting process, to exorcise my feelings through story, but very therapeutic. And I know, when I'm having a bad day due to the RSD or missing my mom or something else, I can always turn to my comics as a way to let it out.

Surfing the Bleed: Were there any particular titles or any particular creators that really resonated with you during that time period and helped you start to cope?

Joy Taney: I started reading Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise at the tail end of all that misery, and I think it's been a very big influence on me, both in storytelling and style. Moore is never afraid to experiment with form.

Surfing the Bleed: Did you ever sense any disappointment from your father or the rest of your family when you decided to pursue art instead of music, or did you always feel a lot of support for your pursuits?

Joy Taney: If not for music, my father would have been a cartoonist. He was the one who taught me to draw, with me working from a cartooning book on the floor and him on the art desk above me. He has been my number one fan and supporter throughout my college years. My mother was more interested in my writing--aside from being a musician, she was also a journalist--but was happy to see me choose comics. In fact, on her death bed she made me promise not to drop out of college from grief. If anything, they were worried that I chose to be an artist because their lives proved that it could be difficult financially. The people who took it a little harder were my maternal grandparents. My grandmother wanted me to be a doctor and my grandfather wanted me to be President.

Surfing the Bleed: You attended the prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA. SCAD has a history of really supporting the medium of graphic storytelling and even offers a degree in that field. Can you talk about your experience there, how it helped you mature as an artist and how it affected your approach to comics?

Joy Taney: I learned just as much about how to act like an artist as I did to draw like one at SCAD. Being able to do creative problem-solving and take criticism was something I really struggled with, and I think only in my senior year did I make headway (and if any of my former professors are reading this, I'm well aware and very sorry that I was a miserable little troll in your classes. I really am, I was terrible). For my last three years I attended the satellite campus in Atlanta, and the teachers there were very focused on visual storytelling, which is the key to getting the story across clearly. Let's be frank, my art isn't as beautiful as a lot of the other people who came out of SCAD, but with sharp visual storytelling skills I can make it more appealing.

Surfing the Bleed: You're interning right now for Gaijin Studios in Atlanta, a comics collective that includes such heavy-hitters as Laura Martin, Brian Stelfreeze and Cully Hamner. Can you tell us how you landed the job and what all it entails?

Joy Taney: I got the internship through SCAD. The application process went like a basic portfolio review, except that the guys cracked a couple offensive jokes to see if I was cool with their sense of humor. The internship itself is a dream--studio space and time to work on my own projects interspersed with jobs or errands that I do for the people at Gaijin. I've flatted, I've filled in blacks, scanned and resized work... the other day I used a kneaded eraser to lift off extra graphite so Karl Story, another of the awesome artists at Gaijin Studios, could ink some pages with less difficulty. Did you know there's even a special technique (learn more) for that? The most consistent job I do, though, is cleaning up the studio and taking out the trash. Maybe someday I'll find a discarded sketch in the garbage and sell it on eBay! Don't get your hopes up though, I can't see a faster way of getting that internship canned.

Surfing the Bleed: What have you learned from your time there and how has working with those big creators affected your work and your approach to the industry?

Joy Taney: I've been interning since June and I still can't stop geeking out over how cool it is, to work under the pros! They have all taught me something. What I love about Gaijin is that it's essentially a continuation of my education, only this time I don't have to pay for it. I get a lot of tips on advanced storytelling and professional etiquette.

Surfing the Bleed: You're currently working on your own creator-owned property, Son of Babylon. It's a story with deep roots in Hebrew history. Can you tell us a bit about the book and what your inspiration for the story was?

Joy Taney: Son of Babylon is my prequel to the Book of Ezra. It takes place in 500 BC, when the Hebrews were forced out of their home city of Judah to live in Babylon as second-class citizens. It follows Zerubbabel, who will eventually become the man to free the Hebrews, in his younger years and sees him start to take a hand in Hebrew history. The first thing on his task list is to ferret out the mole in his community who is secretly working for the shah of Babylon.
The inspiration for Son of Babylon was actually something that happened 2000 years before, involving the mysterious, marauding Sea People. There was a quote by Rameses III about them, "No land could stand before their arms... They laid their hands upon the land to the ends of the earth." Tell me that doesn't send chills up your spine! Originally the story would have taken place in 2500 BC and been about a farmboy who encountered the Sea People, but when I was researching Assyrian names I came across the history of Zerubbabel and realized that would make for a much more interesting topic. No one's told any stories about the events I'm covering since the writers of the Bible, so I have a lot of untouched material to play with.

Surfing the Bleed: What creative and historical influences are you drawing from for Son of Babylon?

Joy Taney: I've been developing this story for almost a year now, and the hardest part is the research. For instance, my best friend wants to do a comic that takes place during the French Revolution. She can get books on the historical clothing, take a virtual tour of Versailles, and if she was really hard up, she could go on Wikipedia. I don't have it anywhere as lucky. In a year, I've acquired only four books on the time period and a handful of websites. One of my biggest resources has been the Bible itself. You can agree or disagree with what it has to say theologically, but the records kept on the time period I'm studying were pretty detailed. There are some things in Son of Babylon that are intentionally historically inaccurate, like how all of the carts in my rendition of Babylon are actually Roman carts, because I can't find any pictures of Babylonian carts. Most of the inaccuracies I am aware of, and use for dramatic purposes. The creative part comes in when I not only have to weave a story around this series of historical events, but when I come to a piece of history, mostly visual, that I don't have any information on. Luckily Babylon has its own aesthetics and I'm learning to fake it convincingly.

Surfing the Bleed: You identify yourself as reform Jewish. Can you speak a bit about your journey through your faith, how it affects your life and how it influences your work?

Joy Taney: I came from a family that took a broad variety of influences into their faith. Every Passover seder, my grandfather, an environmental scientist, would loudly proclaim that the God he worshiped was not a little man in the clouds taking notes on everything bad that you did. My mother was, in college, part of a Hindu cult, and my father went to Catholic school, and I studied Theosophy for a while. It kept me very open-minded and I have had the opportunity to see a lot of different faiths in action. Jewish culture encourages intelligence and analysis--one of the most respected things you can do is become a Rabbi so you can analyze the hidden meanings of the Torah all day. I take a scientific approach to faith, and that's perfectly acceptable within the religion. It also allows me to look at the Bible, a major part of my research for this book, as not only a religious text but as a historical one as well as a guide to the culture at the time it was written.

Surfing the Bleed: Talk a bit, if you would, about the process of creating the pitch for Son of Babylon and what the reaction to it has been so far. Also, you're in competition for some grants for your work due to the nature of the subject matter, correct?

Joy Taney: I've worked on my pitch packets with a few people looking over my shoulder, chief among them Cully Hamner. I try to market them in eye-catching ways--Matt Kindt's creative designs inspired me to wrap the physical packets in actual papyrus, which I would cut down to size and print designs out on. The reactions I get from publishers have been two-fold--everyone finds the pitch and sample pages to be very exciting, but so far none of them have said it was a good fit for the company. I showed Scott Allie of Dark Horse my packet, for instance, and he was very enthusiastic, but when it came down to it, Son of Babylon just wasn't in the direction Dark Horse is moving. As for grants, I'm trying to find the right organization for Hebrew history that would be interested in the comic.

Surfing the Bleed: You mentioned that you have a couple of other projects going right now. Without divulging too much, can you tell us a bit about the other irons you have in the fire and what your plans for them are in the future?

Joy Taney: After Son of Babylon, which will be two graphic novels, I have plans for a three-graphic novel mystery set in a bar. That's inspired by my own experience working as a barmaid as well as a late-night musing on the duality of pleasure. However, the project I'm working on simultaneously with Son of Babylon is a lesbian romance novel with a setting similar to A Handmaid's Tale. It was inspired by Twilight, actually--or to be more specific, my reaction to Twilight, which was, "I can write a better story than this!" So I am.

Surfing the Bleed: You're a comics professional currently trying to break in. So far I've interviewed a number of people who struggled for a while but have finally managed to crack that glass ceiling. What's it like being right on the cusp, feeling like you're so close to a big break? Is the anticipation exciting, nerve-wracking? And what advice do you have for people in a similar position to your own?

Joy Taney: Definitely nerve-wracking. I'm creating this book that's in a genre you don't see a lot of, and that's working against me right now. It's a thrill to get such a good reaction from fellow creators though, there's a number of people out there rooting for me to break in. For people in my situation, I'd say treat every opportunity as a potential for business. Like this interview, for instance--I would love it if I a publisher read this and contacted me about working with them (hint, hint), but it's also adding to my visibility before I get that first job, which is good because people might recognize me.

Surfing the Bleed: The comics industry isn't one dominated by female creators. Do you think your gender makes it harder for you to break in? Have you encountered any situations yet where you felt like people were marginalizing you as a "female" creator instead of treating you as simply a creator?

Joy Taney: At this point in the comic industry's development, I feel that being a girl is an asset instead of a liability. People get excited when they hear about new female comic book creators. At Baltimore Con, the thing I kept hearing was how badly everyone wanted to read more books about girls, written by girls. That was great for my friend to hear, who's working on a female-oriented superhero story, but there I was, feeling awkward about being a girl writing a book about a boy! If anything, I've experienced reverse discrimination--people are more interested because I'm female and that's still rare. However, I do feel there aren't enough truly interesting women characters in mainstream comics, and I'd love a chance to help change that. Most mainstream comics are written for a male audience, and so the male characters have the more interesting stories while the women act as love interests and eye candy. It's rare to find a girl character who can really hold her own with the men while not simultaneously being shot in angles that emphasize her T&A. Men are strong, and women are sexy. I'd like to see some more inversions of that trope.

Surfing the Bleed: What creative goals would you like to achieve in your time in the comics industry? Any particular tropes you'd like to shatter or stories you really want to tell? What are you passionate about and what do you want the industry to know about you, about what you plan to do to advance comics into the future?

Joy Taney: That relates back to the last question, and what I said about interesting female protagonists. I would love to introduce new characters or rework establishing ones to be fascinating independent of their male counterparts. I'm also a strong proponent of idea-driven stories, and my goal with any story I work on is to carry through on the strong idea behind it.

Surfing the Bleed: Thanks again for doing the interview Joy! It's always great to sit down with a fellow Browncoat. You've been absolutely fantastic and I really appreciate your candor. I wish you the best of luck as you continue down this road and Surfing the Bleed will be pulling for you!

Joy Taney: It's been a pleasure, and I wish Surfing the Bleed all the best in the future!

The Surfing the Bleed Review - Incredibles #3 by Mark Waid, Landry Walker and Ramanda Kamarga

Issue three of BOOM! Studios ongoing The Incredibles book by Mark Waid, Landry Walker and Ramanda Kamarga offers a fun, fast-paced finale to the current Jack Jack-fueled storyline that is sure to delight comics fans of all ages.

The script, penned by Waid and Walker, is a thing of streamlined beauty that balances the exposition with enough humor and sweeping action to keep things moving at a brilliant pace. The pair also inject the book with a fair helping of superhero tropes, playing a familiar game with their own set of rules and in the process creating a book that will please longtime superhero fans while offering a good jumping on point for new readers.

The pair of Waid and Landry are joined again this issue by Ramanda Kamarga. Like Marcio Takara before him, Kamarga captures the energy and aesthetic of the original animation while remaining true to his own style. And it's a style that compliments the action in Waid and Walker's script perfectally. Every big action sequence, every facial expression, every nuance of costuming or power represenation is conveyed with serious skill by Kamarga.

The story in issue three closes up the Jack Jack illness storyline and ends with a cliffhanger that leaves readers craving more. And really, that's what I think is best about the BOOM! Kids line, The Incredibles especially. While there is plenty of value to be found in the kids offerings from the Big Two (Marvel, DC), it could be said that the one-shot format employed for most of their books does little to engage young readers in a manner that will keep them coming back for more. Not to sound too mercenary, but one of the most important aspects of publishing comics for kids is making sure that they keep reading the comics you're publishing and in the proccess create a new generation of comic readers. The best way to do that is to give them a book that embraces the traditions of the medium by requiring that they come back each month to get the next installment of the story. BOOM!'s The Incredibles title does exactly that, and that's what makes it the best introduction to superheroes you could possibly give a young reader right now.

If you haven't checked it out, the first volume by Mark Waid and Marcio Takara (The Incredibles: Family Matters) is available in collected form now. With the first volume out, the second volume wrapped up and the third ready to start soon, (oh, and by the way, Christmas and Hannukah are coming up) this is a great time to introduce your favorite superheroes to this great offering from BOOM! Kids.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tracking Back Around

I was a bright kid, but that didn't stop me from not giving a damn in high school. Hell, maybe it's why I didn't give a damn in high school. Like a lot of smart people stuck in bad schools, I felt less than motivated throughout my teen years. As a result of that, I didn't do as well in class as I could have and had to miss out on the one AP class my high school offered: English. Given that English was the only thing I cared about in high school, missing out on the one chance at a real English class was pretty heartbreaking. The closest thing I could get was taking standard English from Mrs. Joyner, the woman who taught the AP class. At my school, senior English involved stuff like Macbeth, Chaucer and, most importantly to me, Beowulf. For a kid who had grown up reading fantasy novels and playing Dungeons & Dragons, Beowulf was a revelation. Here was the foundation for every epic fantasy hero I'd ever loved. Tolkien was in there, more importantly Howard, and I loved every single line of it. When it came time to take our final exams in that class, Mrs. Joyner gave us the option of taking the test or re-writing the Beowulf epic in our own fashion. Being a writer of some burgeoning talent who at the time was obsessed with Stephen King's Dark Tower series, I decided to re-write Beowulf as if it had occurred in that world. The resulting manuscript was close to twenty single-spaced pages. Mrs. Joyner loved it and asked me to read it for the class. If you ever need to put an entire room full of bored teenagers to sleep, read them a Dark Tower retelling of the Beowulf story. Regardless of the audience reaction, Mrs. Joyner said something that day that has never left me; "Don't you all think Brett will be a great writer some day?" Those words still resonate with me every time I sit down to write. I've girded myself with them throughout the years and despite moments of complete creative lethargy, her words have always helped me soldier through and keep believing in myself.

So when I sat down earlier this year to start thinking about concepts I'd like to work on as a comic writer, Beowulf and the Old West came back to mind. I won't go into a lot of detail, obviously, because I don't want you dingoes stealing my baby. Needless to say, I've come up with a fairly cool angle on the story that adds a lot of my own personal touches and seems, so far, to resonate with the limited audience I've introduced it to. While I have other projects that I'm working on, any of which I'd be glad to have published, it feels important to me that this Beowulf story be my first. I owe it to the teenage me that saw a future with so much potential and I owe it to Mrs. Joyner for teaching me to believe in myself.

Oh, in case you were wondering, I spent the second half of that year as Mrs. Joyner's teacher's assistant. She slipped me all the AP reading material, let me grade all their reports, and at the end of the year sneaked me into the AP exam. Entry-level college English successfully skipped.

Thanks Mrs. Joyner. I'll make you proud.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Prove Bill Wrong

BOOM! Studios officially launched their campaign today to prove Diamond wrong and make themselves into one of the top five comics companies in the direct market next year. CBR has a great article on it here.

The "Prove Bill Wrong" campaign saw a soft launch at this year's Diamond Retailer Summit in Baltimore. While everyone was clamoring over what DC and Marvel have planned for next year, BOOM's Ross Richie was laying down the company's mission statement for direct market relevance. Can BOOM! continue its surprisingly quick rise? Well, when you've got the kind of love and enthusiasm for comics that they do, I'd say you stand a good chance. I wouldn't bet against them.

Big Marvel Money

Here's an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal that outlines just how much the top dogs at Marvel are going to be pulling in as a result of the company's recent sell to Disney.

Big Marvel Money

No word yet on just what effect this is going to have on creators, but if enough trickles down to Bendis to make him a millionaire then I think it's only fair he officially change his name to "Wilson Fisk."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Surfing the Bleed Interview

I wanted to take a second to welcome any new readers I might have received from the word of mouth surrounding the Phil Hester interview I just did. When I started Surfing the Bleed earlier this year it was in an effort to document my journey into comics and to hopefully create a resource for other new creators trying to break in. While I occasionally write opinion pieces, give my pull list or throw down a review, the main focus of the blog has shifted toward interviewing creators (both green and veteran) about their experience in the comics industry. I do what I can to promote the blog, but the best promotion is still word of mouth. So if you're a comics creator and you want to set up an interview, just contact me through the e-mail I have linked at the right of the blog. If you're a fan and you really dig what I'm trying to do here, then please tell other comics fans about the site, get them here, and lets all have a good time loving (and making) comics together.

Thanks sincerely for all the support and welcome to all the new fans.

If you want to check out any of the previous interviews I've done, just click the "interviews" tag in the cloud on the right.

Now somebody call Jenny Sparks and lets all go surf the bleed.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Surfing The Bleed Interview: Phil Hester

Phil Hester is one of the comics industry's most successful creators. A veteran of over fifteen years in the business, he's written and/or illustrated for every major publisher (and quite a few independent ones) throughout his career. His current work includes The Black Terror for Dynamite's Project Superpowers and The Anchor for BOOM! Studios. Surfing the Bleed sat down with Phil this past week and here are the results. Enjoy!

Surfing the Bleed:
Hey Phil. Welcome to Surfing the Bleed and thanks for taking the time to do this.

Phil Hester: It's my pleasure.

Surfing the Bleed: First off, could you give everyone a quick rundown of your educational background?

Phil Hester: I have a BFA from the University of Iowa with a major in drawing.

Surfing the Bleed:
Over the years, was there a specific class or a specific teacher that really inspired you to continue to pursue art?

Phil Hester: I already considered myself a cartoonist when I entered college, so a lot of the learning I had to do there was actually unlearning. I had to dump a lot of the bad habits and short cuts I had developed while making mini comics in high school. The instructor most instrumental in that was the great Joe Patrick, who anyone attending art school at Iowa for the better part of four decades knows as a magnificent teacher. He taught me how to empty my cup a little to take in new information, but still keep what was essentially "me".

That said, I never had to be inspired to pursue art. It's something I would be doing with no training or no chance of financial gain. I do it because I love it. I do it for a living because a few people will pay to see it.

Surfing the Bleed: Did you always know that this is what you wanted to do? Do you remember a specific issue of a comic or a specific creator that sort of flipped a switch in your mind? Was there a moment where you said, "Hey, this is a career. I can do this for a living, I want to do this for a living?"

Phil Hester: Yeah, I think I was twelve or so and my comic book collection was something like 100 comics. I was starting to recognize recurring names in the credits of the books I liked and it dawned on me that these were real people and maybe I could be one of them someday. I was reading an issue of Iron Man that ended in the cliffhanger of Tony Stark being thrown from the deck of the helicarrier without his armor and I didn't have access to the next issue, so I wrote and drew my own rudimentary conclusion. It felt really good and really fun. I haven't stopped since.

Surfing the Bleed:
You actually started working in comics when you were in college, correct? What was it like breaking in that young and what sort of projects were you getting starting out?

Phil Hester: I was at the very bottom rung of the ladder, but when you're a junior in college that feels pretty spectacular. I was making $35 a page, which seemed like a fortune to me. I was just so excited to do comics that I didn't care what kind of assignment I got. The work I did was pretty crappy, but at the time so many new indie publishers were starting up that artists were in short supply. I was lucky, I guess. Still, I worked pretty hard at getting work. I had a regimen of doing new samples every three months and sending them to literally every publisher silly enough to put their address in their book. I have to say I got a lot of great criticism through the mail that way from Eliot Brown, John Buscema, and Jim Shooter at Marvel and Mike Carlin at DC. Imagine that- they used to respond to cold submissions, even if you weren't any good!

Surfing the Bleed:
You've worked for just about everybody in the industry over the years. Can you compare the experiences you've had working for various companies like Dark Horse, DC, Marvel? Was there any one company you enjoyed working for better than the others, or adversely, anywhere you never really felt comfortable?

Phil Hester: It's almost never a company-wide experience. It's usually the relationship you have with an editor. For example- I love working with Bob Schreck and I'll always look to work with him no matter where he is. We started at Dark Horse, then Oni, then DC, and I'm sure I'll do something for him at IDW someday. That's one of the big secrets of comics: People like to work with their friends. So, come on out and make some friends.

Surfing the Bleed:
You worked as an artist on Swamp Thing for about 2 1/2 years when you were younger, working with some really talented writers along the way. Recently you've taken over as writer of the Black Terror for Dynamite's Project Superpowers line. Can you talk a bit about what it's like working on iconic characters such as that? Is it intimidating or does it just feel natural, and do you prefer working on something you've created yourself to something already established?

Phil Hester: Swamp Thing was very intimidating to me, but I think that's because I was in my mid twenties. Also, Swamp Thing is one of my absolute favorite characters, so it was like being called up to play for the big leagues right out of the box. Here I am on the same book as a lot of my heroes like Wein, Wrightson, Nino, Bissette, Veitch, Moore, etc. I'm not particularly fond of the work I did on the book, but it was such a thrill that I don't care. Stuart Moore took a chance on Mark (Millar) and me, and history has proven him a good judge of talent, at least in Mark's case.

As for Black Terror, it's more a knowledge of the character's long history than a personal attachment that makes it a daunting task. Now that I'm into the book I can say it's been nothing but fun. Black Terror is such an electric character that you can just start typing and interesting things will happen. And while it's fun to play with the icons of my youth, it will always be more satisfying to create my own characters. Why not try and send some new icons down stream to the next generation?

Surfing the Bleed: You're both an illustrator and a writer. Do you find that your experience as an illustrator makes it easier for you to write scripts for other artists? Does it ever frustrate you to see another artist's version of your script, do you ever look at it and think, "Man, that's really not what I was thinking?"

Phil Hester: I think it's made me both more sympathetic and more demanding. I have a really, really bad relationship with my own work. I find it hard to look at. But sometimes I see things an artist has done with my script that I think are nonsensical and gain a new appreciation for my own work, at least in the storytelling department. I've been on the other end of a bad script and try hard to never lay that on an artist. By bad I don't mean a bad story, but a story that's just no fun to draw. I try to balance every phone conversation with a fist fight, every talking heads page with an exciting splash. Look, if you're boring your artist, you're boring your readers.

As for technique, I don't take too many chances with the storytelling. On a lot of my scripts I actually thumbnail what I think the page should look like. Of course, the artist is free to change whatever they like, but it gives me a chance to just show them what I'm thinking, how I want the balloons placed, what kind of pace I'm trying to set, etc. When I'm working with an artist who doesn't want that level of direction I tend to use very sparse panel descriptions and let them run with it. Artists are frustrated writers and writers are frustrated artists, so you can trust most artists to compose panels that tell the story. I try to stay out of the way and let them do their thing.

Surfing the Bleed: Would you say you enjoy one more than the other? Now that you've got a lot of experience under your belt as a writer, do you find yourself preferring to take on projects that require your skills as a writer as opposed to an illustrator?

Phil Hester: Not to be glib, but writing is much easier, at least physically. Writing is mostly daydreaming followed by a few days of feverish typing. Drawing is more job like. You must be at the board every day and sometimes all day. I'd never give up drawing completely, though. Someday I'll find the perfect situation for me to write and draw the same project.

Surfing the Bleed:
Speaking of current writing projects, you're into issue two of your new series for BOOM, The Anchor. I'm really enjoying the book so far, great stuff.

Phil Hester: That's great to hear. Thanks.

Surfing the Bleed:
The Anchor has drawn a lot of comparison to books such as Eric Powell's The Goon and Mike Mignola's Hellboy. I personally feel like the book is referential of books like those, but is very original and fresh. Can you talk a bit about the process that went into creating the character and some of the creative influences you're drawing from for the book?

Phil Hester: I think those comparisons are mostly visual. Truth be told, Diamond asks us to describe new books in the context of existing books for retailers' sakes, and those are the books we picked. It has the same visual flair as those books, and deals with the same creepy, supernatural settings, but that's where the similarity ends. I think The Anchor is a more human character than Hellboy (I love Hellboy!) and has a deeper past to explore. And we're certainly not as funny as The Goon, nor trying to be. We're just trying to do an emotionally satisfying, high octane action book.

As far as influences, well, the two angels wrestling for my comic book writing soul are Alan Moore and Frank Miller, so I'm trying to combine Frank's sense of timing and action and letting the visual element carry the day with Alan's lyricism and deep concepts. Of course, I'm neither of those guys, so we'll see. Kirby is also my paragon, so I'm trying to cook up some mind bending ideas and characters that would be at home in OMAC or Fantastic Four.

Surfing the Bleed: How have you enjoyed the experience working for Boom Studios? Anybody who reads this blog knows I'm a big supporter of what they're doing. They've got a pretty incredible line-up of talent and some great books coming out right now. Are you pretty impressed that they've managed to build such a successful and acclaimed studio in such a short amount of time?

Phil Hester: They have the secret ingredient to success: They care. That's all it takes. Ross Richie is a hustler in the best, Stan Lee sense of the word. He is always looking for ways to grow not just his business, but comics in general. And having a legend like Mark Waid and smart people like Matt Gagnon on the editorial side is practically a guarantee that every BOOM! book will be a good read. Chip Mosher is continually looking for new ways to get our books in the hands of potential readers and works harder than any PR guy I've met in my two decades in this business. They have the same drive IDW has that has taken them from tiny start-up to major player in ten years. BOOM! is on track to do that in even less time, I think.

Also, they were the only publisher we showed The Anchor to who "got it" right away. They didn't ask for any crazy changes in story or personnel, as a lot of publishers did. Ross looked at it and said- "That's a good comic. Let's get it out there. What do you need to make that happen?" I can't tell you how rare it is to hear that in this business. If they'll have me I'll do books for them for the foreseeable future.

Surfing the Bleed: Well, this blog is about creating a reference for new creators trying to break into the business. Do you have any advice you can give young artists and writers out there who are trying to make their way in this business?

Phil Hester: Start now. Do not wait for permission to become a writer or artist, even from yourself. By that I mean, don't hold back until you think you're better at comics before making them. Just start. Nothing teaches like work, so assign yourself the work of a graphic novel today and complete it. When you're done you may not have a decent comic, but you will be a better comic book maker.

Also, the secret of making it in the comics business is persistence. If you can take criticism from both industry professionals and fans, and use that to better yourself, you'll make it. Just keep banging away until something gives. Never limit yourself in terms of what kind of assignments you'll take, or what kind of stories you want to do. You'll learn something from both the success and failures. Believe me, failure is sitting in my studio right now teaching me a ton.

Surfing the Bleed: A lot of my readers have families and a lot of them are trying to balance the life of provider and creator. The comics industry isn't always the most lucrative of businesses and I'm well aware it can be a struggle to make ends meet. Was there ever a time where you thought, "I don't know if can sustain this," ever a moment where you considered moving on and finding something more stable? Or have you been lucky enough that comics always provided a comfortable living?

Phil Hester: That' a great question because it happens to 99% of the people in this business. My crisis came more recently than you might think. Between Swamp Thing and Green Arrow I had a couple of years of doing animation and advertising work. I also worked for Kitchen Sink during that time. I had this almost impossibly bad string of luck in which Kitchen Sink went under owing me thousands and thousands of dollars while at the exact same time a mail room employee at Sony was stealing my animation paychecks and cashing them. So, I was flat broke and had two very young kids and was starting to peruse the want ads. But, I was never looking to replace my career. I was looking for the kind of job that would let me continue to make comics on the side. My wife and family have never been anything less than supportive, even in that awful year, and thankfully success with Green Arrow and The Coffin followed soon after.

What I'm saying is, everyone is going to have one of those crisis moments. If you truly love comics you can step back knowing you will come back and not swearing off the business or art form completely. If you don't love comics you probably won't make it through your first bad portfolio review. Maybe it's a sickness on my part. I know a lot of guys making way more in advertising than I ever could in comics, but they had to give up little chunks of their soul for that. Soul intact here. Being rich is a sick joke anyway, almost as miserable as being poor. Just try to get enough to cover your family's needs. Anything beyond that is gravy, and we all know what gravy does to your heart.

Surfing the Bleed: Well thanks again Phil for taking the time to do this interview. It's always nice to get the perspective of a creator with as much experience in the business as yourself. Best of luck going forward and keep up the great work!

Phil Hester: Thanks for having me. Great questions.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Blackest Night - An Opinion

Let me start out by informing the reader that this piece won't include a bunch of sales numbers or anything like that. This is simply my opinion of Blackest Night and how indicative I feel it is of the state of the industry as a whole.

Let's start out with my opinion distilled to its simplest form. I do not like Blackest Night.

Okay, now that's out of the way, let's discuss why.

I liked Final Crisis. Retcon. I LOVED Final Crisis. Despite the artistic inconsistencies, I felt like Final Crisis was some of Morrison's finest work and one of the best superhero stories ever told. It wasn't just an event book, it was a story about how superheroes affect the world around them and about the importance those mythical beings have to the fabric of reality itself. Final Crisis was about ultimate evil and the sacrifices and the strength necessary to stand up in the face of it. A story about how much the symbols of Superman and Batman mean to the world, Final Crisis succeeds at tearing the whole DCU apart and then watching as it uses the hope and the power generated by those two epic figures (and many slightly less epic figures) to stich itself back together. Final Crisis is important because it teaches us that hope will triumph in the face of ultimate despair.

At least, that's what it was supposed to teach us. Apparently Geoff Johns skipped class that day.

Maybe I'm the one who is wrong. Maybe I completely missed the point. Maybe Final Crisis was nothing but a big event book and it's sole purpose was to set up the next big event book, which is of course Johns' Blackest Night. Maybe I'm just naive? I choose to believe otherwise, choose to believe that when Grant Morrison tells a Superman story, it's because he has something very important to say. The important thing he was saying with Final Crisis was simple; hope wins out.

Unless your book is immediately followed by what more and more looks like a cash-grab meant to capitalize on the current zombie craze. Sure, they tell us that Blackest Night isn't the response to the success of Marvel Zombies and sure they say Black Lanterns aren't zombies, but call a spade a spade and a call an undead flesh eater a freaking zombie. Let's pretend for a moment though that this isn't a trend-motivated event book and instead that Geoff Johns' now storied Green Lantern arc has been leading to this all along. It's still the wrong choice, by Johns, by editorial, by the company itself. Following Final Crisis, which in my opinion is all about the restoration of hope to the world and the triumph of will and dedication over fear and hatred, with a book that's nothing more than a formulaic gore fest full of undead symbols of hope is a terrible idea.

Let's look at the current climate of the world. The recession is eating jobs away like rust on metal, the houses of congress are screaming bloody murder at each other, hateful ideologues spread mendacity amongst the masses, children are dying from a growing pandemic and war tears families apart abroad and at home. Things are bad right now, nobody disputes that. Now, is it the job of DC Comics to offer an escape from that? Certainly not. They're a business and they're free to do whatever they feel like is in the best interest of their bottom line. But for a company that is ostensibly concerned with finding and keeping new readers, a project like Blackest Night, which is largely referential and has no great jump-on point, seems foolish. Not to mention the fact that at the same time as undead superheroes are savaging living superheroes all over the pages of major DC books, Superman has left the planet (sort of) and Batman is dead (sort of).

Personally, I feel like DC should have followed Final Crisis with something more classic, something that really captures the hope and the perseverance represented in characters such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash. Morrison already gave us a vision of a world driven mad with fear, terror and indifference and he already gave us the solution; superheroes being superheroes. Not, point of fact, superheroes being zombies. Do you think the casual reader just picking up an issue of Batman cares that the first Robin is now Batman, do you think a reader picking up a copy of Blackest Night understands the significance of Barry Allen being back from the grave or cares one iota about the fact that Ralph Dibny is now a black lantern? Do you think he even cares what a black lantern is? Of course not.

The argument against this is that new readers don't read comics, but basing editorial decisions on that assumption eventually leads to an unsustainable business-model. I mean, I'm a lifelong comic fan and I could give a damn what happens to Ralph Dibny. I could give a damn that there even is a Ralph Dibny. If I feel that way, how are they ever supposed to get somebody interested in Blackest Night if they've only got rough ideas about who and what superheroes are supposed to be. Wouldn't it be better to present titles filled with more familiar iterations of these classic characters? I'm not saying we shouldn't tell stories that reflect our modern world, but one of the things DC is so great at is giving us these paragons of decency that we can lean on, characters we can believe in despite how dark things get. The world may be shit out here, but in Metropolis we know Superman is keeping things safe, bright and full of hope.

What's my solution? Wednesday Comics. Could anyone argue that the version of Barry Allen presented by Karl Kerschl and Brendan Fletcher isn't more heroic, more groundbreaking and more universal than the versions currently being written by Johns? Would anyone argue that Brian Azzarello's version of Bruce Wayne does less service to the Batman mythos than leaving him trapped at the beginning of time, out of the story completely? Is there a casual fan that wouldn't immediately feel more kinship with Kurt Busiek and Joe Quinones space aged, neon and cocktails Hal Jordan than Johns brooding, reckless and violent version? Why are these great creative teams telling great stories relegated to out of continuity titles while Geoff Johns runs the entire company into a lonely corner full of fanboy masturbation? Why is the vision of superheroes created by creators such as Darwyn Cooke and Paul Pope relegated to an occasional title here or there while Geoff Johns throws blood, anger and needless referential storytelling over half the titles in the DCU?

Right now, don't we need Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne? Don't we need a little hope?

p.s. Yes, Darwyn Cooke and Paul Pope are Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne in this analogy.


I have FAILED at National Blog Posting Month.


Monday, November 2, 2009

The Six Strangest Pieces of Batman Merchandise Found on

Perhaps no superhero is more recognizable than Batman. Given the success of the 60s television show, the 90s animated series and the rebooted film franchise, it's hard to find anybody that doesn't know who Batman is. That sort of wild popularity can inspire some great stories, but it can also inspire some truly mind-boggling merchandise. It's with that in mind that I decided to head over to and sift through the Bat-merchandise in an effort to find some of the strangest and/or crappiest examples of Batman ephemera that I could. The following were the pieces I considered to be absolute gems. Enjoy! (All images courtesy of

Batman/Batmobile Cake Topper

To be fair, I might be critiquing the cake itself a little bit here. I mean, look at that thing. As the proud husband of an excellent cake decorator, I can spot a potential Cake Wreck from a mile away and this artist's rendition of Gotham City would be a shoe-in. But this is a post about strange, silly or creepy Batman merchandise, so we have to talk about the cake toppers themselves.

I suppose most children wouldn't care, but I was the kind of observant kid that was always bothered by problems of scale in toys. I'd hope that any child I would raise would have the same levels of OCD. Look at the size of that Batman then look at the size of that Batmobile. There's no way Bats is fitting in that car, no way he gets to have fun tooling around the 2D, strangely angular, windowless buildings of Gotham City. This is cake topper FAIL!

Batman Figure Candle

Hey kids! What would you like for your birthday? What's that? You'd like to succeed where Firefly has failed so many times before. You'd like to burn Batman alive?! Well, with these "figure candles" that is not going to be a problem. Perhaps I'm being too literal here, but I tend to think that watching one's heroes burn slowly into a puddle of blue gray leftovers is more traumatizing than celebratory. But hey, if you want your kid to grow up to be the Joker, go right ahead! Light the freaking Batman on fire!

Batman Hot Wheels Monster Jam Truck

Have you never read a Batman comic in your life? Have you never seen a Batman movie, watched a Batman TV show or heck, even listened to Prince's Batdance? Are you raising a redneck child on a steady diet of McDonald's, Moutain Dew and lowered expectations? Has that child only heard of Batman through word of mouth and has decided to fashion him into some sort of Evil Knievel meets Dale Earnhardt defender of the Old Days? If so, this is the only Batman toy for you!

Batman Pinata

Alright, so this isn't a traditional pinata so if your goal is to create a future sociopath by having them literally bash their heroes till their insides fall out, you're out of luck! Still, this "pull-string" pinata is plenty creepy even without taking a gleeful broom handle to it. Not only does it look like what would happen if a jellyfish were Batman, the kids also have to grab those squiggly tentacle looking bits and yank on them until they find the string that leads to Batman's sweet secrets. Sure there's candy involved, but are you willing to put up with the Lovecraftian Batman nightmares that are sure to follow? I highly doubt it.

Batman Halloween Pail

If you're looking to really frighten your kids this Halloween, look no further than the hollowed out skull of their favorite superhero. What bothers me more than the premise though, is the execution. This Halloween pail is a shockingly good recreation of Christian Bale's face. I mean seriously, take a look at this thing! It's like they just took a bone saw to Mr. Bale's skull, took off the top, scooped out all the brains and then said, "Here ya go kiddies! Fill her up!" For the record, this Halloween pail could graduate from creepy to awesome if it would yell, "Swear to me," or, "I'm not wearin' hockey pads," every time you dropped a Baby Ruth into its gaping hole.

Dark Knight Joker Dog Costume

Are you one of those dog owners that absolutely dotes on your pet? Do you give the little critter birthday and Christmas gifts, dress him up in cute costumes for Halloween and other holidays? Well, nothing says, "I love you Sparky," like dressing him up as the Clown Prince of Crime, comics' most notorious psychopath, The Joker! Sure, you could dress your dog up like Ace, Batman's trusted hound (who is, in fact, not a hound dog). Maybe you'd like to dress the pup up like Robin since he's your little sidekick. But the Joker? Seriously? He's a murdering hell-clown bent on making Batman's life, and the lives of those he cares about, a living hell. He is the consensus nastiest villain in comics history! He's the *@#$+! Joker, people. And you want to dress your dog up like him?

Sick. Just...sick.

This is really just the tip of the weird Batman merchandise iceberg. I encourage all of you to go on your own quest for strange Bat-scwhag. If you find something you feel should have been listed here, by all means post a comment about it, give us a link! Who knows? Maybe there's a "Dress your baby up as the Joker" item out there somewhere.


National Blog Posting Month

I missed out on the first day of National Blog Posting Month because my first night of work damn near killed me. For those of you wondering, I just took a job working the door and bar backing at a local bar in the neighborhood. It's a place I've been going to for about four years now and it's only a few minutes away from the house. I think it will probably work out, even though the hours are going to be hell on the wife and I at first. But in one night of work I already made almost as much as I would have made in an entire week on unemployment. The wage is pretty good for both shifts and the bar stays busy enough that on the nights I barback, I should get a pretty decent tip share. But yeah, that first night kicked my ass. To be fair, the first night was Halloween and I had never worked door at a bar before. As a matter of fact, the only bar experience I have is a close to five month stint at a less than populated Irish pub in downtown Nashville. I think this is going to be a lot more difficult, but it should be a hell of a lot more money, too.

The other nice thing about the job is the fact that the hours I'll be working still afford me the time necessary to update the blog and work on the various comics projects I've got going now. For those of you interested, I am currently researching a longshot pitch to an editor at DC and I'm putting scripting samples together for an artist pal of mine for a slightly less longshot pitch to anyone at DC willing to listen. I know what you're thinking; DC Brett? Seriously? I mean, you're not even published yet. Fair enough, but I figure I might as well shoot for the stars and see if I manage to hit one. It's worth a shot, right?

I also have a project I'm putting together that I think Moonstone might be interested in, a horror pitch I'm going to try and throw BOOM's way and I'm lining up a few more interviews for the blog. It's going to be a very busy year next year, but let's hope it will yield some serious production.

That's all for now.