Showing posts with label interview. Show all posts
Showing posts with label interview. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

John K Snyder III on ‘Eight Million Ways to Die’

Images from Eight Million Ways to Die courtesy of John K Snyder III and IDW
By Matt Dembicki

Comics creator John K Snyder III spent much of his early career in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., but these days lives in western Virginia. He occasionally visits the area for local comics shows and to catch up with friends. John will be in town Saturday, July 14, at Big Planet Comics in Bethesda to sign his new graphic novel Eight Million Ways to Die, an adaptation of the Lawrence Block detective novel.(See info, below.)

Below is a Q&A we did with John about the new book ahead of this weekend’s signing.

What was it about Eight Million Ways to Die — Lawrence Block’s fifth book featuring the gumshoe Matthew Scudder — that you thought would be ideal to adapt into a graphic novel?

I thought Block's study of the human condition told through the detective/mystery genre lent itself to do something other than the typical slam-bang action sometimes associated with pulp fiction comics, though there's certainly enough of it in the story as well. Also, Block's work is very much dialogue-driven, which makes it a natural to adapt to the panel-to-panel format of comics storytelling.

What was your approach to adapting the book? Was Block involved in the process, or did he just hand it off to you? How involved were IDW editors?

I worked solo on the adaptation, and Lawrence was shown pages from time to time by my editor, Tom Waltz. It was always great to get a short note back he was pleased with how it was progressing, that's all I needed to hear to keep moving on. My adaptation process was to keep Block's writing as close to the original as possible, and to focus on the key points of the story to mirror as much of the feel and pace of the original novel. It was a very involved and fluid process, I had to be open to revise and cut sequences all the way through to the end. My gracious editor, Tom Waltz, gave me a free hand to tell the story my way, for that I'll always be grateful. Lawrence Block read and approved of the book once it was completely adapted, illustrated and lettered (by Frank Cvetkovic). Lawrence Block's enthusiastic response to the final product was just wonderful.

The story takes place in the early 1980s, but it’s not stylized in a 1980s kind or way, nor is it overloaded with cultural references that might date it. How did you balance that?

I thought of it in real time, how do we experience our day-to-day lives now? What marks the time period we are in? Our own daily cultural reminders are subtle, in the clothing, the technology, what's in the background. In this graphic novel, it's 1982 New York City—the characters use land line phones, answering services, and phone booths, read newspapers, people look for people by going to their familiar hangouts on the notion they'll be there, not by texting in advance. So the period is defined enough by the characters' actions, how they get around—there's not too much of a need to layer on top of that with additional symbols of the period. I did throw in a concert poster of The Who at Shea Stadium, with opening act, The Clash. That's a cultural moment that was a sign of the changing times, and in fact, The Clash weren't around long after that. It's good to throw in some specific references, but to choose ones that count.

The book has an incredible gritty atmosphere, conveyed through the way you illustrated it. Can you briefly outline your approach? I believe you drew and colored it by hand? How long did the project take, including the writing and illustrating?

I wrote a detailed explanation of my process in a recent article. But for the somewhat shorter version, the pages are all done by hand, fully penciled, sometimes inked, and light to solid color rendering over the pencil/ink, then all adjusted in photoshop, making multiple scans of the pages in different stages and layering them in portions, fusing them all together for the final effect. I guess you could say it's a little like old school animation, laying different animation cels one atop another to create depth. Being the first time adapting Block's work and also developing this illustration process, it took a considerable amount of time to figure it all out, but by the time it got to the last third or so of the book, I had it down to a rhythm of regular production.

Although the story takes place in New York City, did you look back to you time living in D.C. in the ‘80s (which itself was rather gritty at that time) for particular influences?

Absolutely! The book takes place in fall of 1982, at that time, I was living on King St in Old Town Alexandria, pre-Metro Station, and it held its own kind of dystopian vibe, though certainly not on the epic scale of New York City. I would regularly head down to DC Space at 7th and E streets NW and the original 9:30 Club at the Atlantic Building at 930 F Street NW, all of which was just a short drive away from Alexandria. And Old Town had its own little dive club, The Upstairs 704, directly on 704 King St. There was plenty of past inspiration to draw on between all of those locations alone, believe me. And I was quite enamored of New York City, my first time there was in the summer of 1981 — it was a brief visit, but I kept that in mind as well. All in all, it was quite an era. I hope readers will get some of the vibe of that period while reading the adaptation as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Paul Merklein's 'exit interview'

by Mike Rhode

Paul Merklein wrote in to say that the cartooning course he's been teaching for Arlington County needs a new teacher because he's leaving the area for Wisconsin. I last interviewed Paul in 2015 - (where the images seem to have broken - sorry!). With three cartoonists departing the area  in a month (Jason Axtell is also moving for family reasons, and Vanessa Bettancourt also did so recently), I suggested we do an 'exit interview' with Paul to ask about his plans for the future.

MR: Why are you moving?

PM: My family and I moved to Silver Spring in 2009, and we're moving back to Wisconsin for a variety of reasons that involve being closer to our family there.

MR: Are you continuing the Dabney and Dad strip after you move? Is Facebook still your distribution method for it?

PM: I consider Facebook to be the most effective platform to deliver your cartoons to your audience.  Newspapers and magazines are going the way of the dodo, and books might be right behind them.  That said, my first "Dabney and Dad" book should be published before the end of the year.  You can see my cartoons at

MR: For the past few years, you taught cartooning in Arlington? What did that entail?

PM: I was hired to do two things I love to do - draw cartoons, and talk about cartooning.  My students were teens and tweens - some just beginners, and some who were already skilled.  I enjoyed the conversations and questions.  Many of the students have never read a newspaper, and only know cartoons from book collections.  "Calvin and Hobbes" is still incredibly popular.

MR: Is there anything in particular you'll miss about DC?

PM: I love the people in DC, our neighborhood in Silver Spring, crab shacks on the eastern shore, and more places than I can count.  We already miss Obama in the White House.

MR: What's your favorite cartoon-related memory or event or place?

PM: I met a lot of famous cartoonists at Comic Cons - Stan Lee, Jeff Smith (Bone), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Frank Cho, Jules Feiffer, and Liza Donnelly and Sam Gross from The New Yorker.  I also met cartoon editors like Amy Lago, and Bob Mankoff and Emma Allen at The New Yorker.  They all said they liked my cartoons and wanted to see more.

I still enjoy writing and drawing cartoons, and I believe the digital world is an ideal place for them.  People's attention spans keep getting shorter, and cartoons are a perfect way to tell a very short story.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Sara Duke discusses Steve Geppi's Museum donation to the Library of Congress

By Mike Rhode

Shortly after the announcement that Steve Geppi of Baltimore would be closing his Geppi’s Entertainment Museum in Baltimore and donating its holdings to the Library of Congress, I reached out to Library of Congress graphic arts curator Sara Duke (a personal friend of mine) for her thoughts on the donation.

MR: Whose idea was this donation? Did it come from the top down?

SD: My understanding is that Dr. Hayden and Steve Geppi have been long-term friends going back to her days at the Enoch Pratt library. The directive from inside the Library came from her, but the staff in the Prints and Photographs and Serials divisions were enthusiastic about the opportunity.

MR: Do you know what the offer consisted of originally? Was it the entire contents of the Geppi’s Entertainment Museum (GEM)?

SD: Yes, we were told that we could have whatever we wanted from the museum. We don’t collect many three-dimensional objects, even though we’re in the process of building three more storage modules at Fort Meade to store our book collection, but even with that we don’t have sufficient space to store objects properly. So the decision was made to be very selective about 3-D works of art, but to be inclusive of works of arts on paper, photographs, newsprint, comic books, Big Little Books, sheet music and even some recorded sound.

MR: How was material selected? Did each department in the Library handle its own specialty?

SD: Teams of people from the Prints & Photograph and Serials divisions went to Baltimore. We were provided with a spreadsheet from the Museum, probably created by an appraiser, and from the inventory list, we worked room by room deciding what was wanted, what was actually on the walls or in the cases but not on the inventory list, and trying to ascertain what would come to the Library. It took several trips to do that as you would imagine. We sat down as a team and we reached out to colleagues in other divisions about what they would and would not take. We created a list of desiderata to give to Mr. Geppi’s representatives.

MR: Was material that was not on display included as well?

SD: No.

MR: Where is some of the non-art or serial material such as the Big Little Books going?

SD: They’ll go to Rare Books. They already have a collection.

MR: Are they taking all of them or cherry picking?

SD: I believe they’re cherry picking so they don’t create a duplicate set. But the Serials division decided they would be inclusive and make the Geppi comic book set the exhibit-only set, while the existing comics in the Library would be the reference collection that researchers could handle. It’s been a research collection, and people have been looking at them… it’s a double-edged sword. If we never let anybody look at them, they’d be pristine, but we’re a research institution and people are supposed to look at and handle things.

MR: I’ve seen some lists of the donation in various press releases. What are the highlights for you or your department?

SD: There are memorable pieces like the nine-sheet Bambi poster. We have a few nine-sheet posters in our collection, some attached and some detached, but that’s in spectacular condition. I know we have the display space for it at the Library of Congress, but it’s never going to look like it did in Geppi’s Entertainment Museum. That makes me sad. It was an over-the-top lovely gem (pun intended) of a museum. What stood out to me beside that? There’s some great comic strip drawings, an overwhelming number of posters -- some of which may be duplicates of what we have, but without taking a photograph of every one on the wall and comparing them against our collection, we just don’t know, and we didn’t have time to do that. So we’re taking every single poster that was on the wall.

And just because something wasn’t on the walls doesn’t mean it’s gone from the collection. Michael, the curator there, said he was forever moving art in and out. Between the times we went out during a snowstorm in March and then again in April, he had rotated things from the warehouse and the Museum.

MR: What does that mean for you guys? If you get to pick from the Museum, does that include the warehouse too?

SD: That has not yet been offered to us.

MR: When did this start? Obviously it would be a complex negotiation.

SD: Late last year, or very early this year. Mr. Geppi came to visit the Library two or three times last year. One time he saw the original art for Amazing Fantasy #15 (aka the first appearance of Spider-Man – MR). He came back down for a private conversation with Dr. Hayden and then we started talking about going up to Baltimore to figure out what it would mean as an institution to absorb his collection. For a lot of institutions, absorbing 3,300 items would be overwhelming but for us it’s routine.

MR: The material is going to be divided by divisions when stored in the Library?

SD: Right. There’s some pressed records that are quite rare that are going to Recorded Sound. There are some videogame sets that the Motion Pictures Division has expressed interest in. The Rare Book Division is in charge of the Big Little Books and maybe some of the early bound volumes. Prints & Photograph and Serials are the benefactors, overwhelmingly.

MR: Will there be a Geppi Collection, or is the material being integrated into existing material? Is there going to be an organizing principle so someone could rebuild the collection?

SD: That will depend, division by division. We’ll be sitting down to hammer out a plan, but Prints & Photographs will record the provenance to the nth degree and it will be known as the Stephen A. Geppi Collection of Comics and Graphic Arts.

MR: Is he giving you any money to catalog the material?

SD: No.

MR: Do you have any more personal favorites besides Bambi?

SD: It’s a sweet poster, but there’s some spectacular early Yellow Kid material, there’s some really great trading cards, some patches minor league baseball teams and a poster marketing them… What’s really intriguing in the ability with this acquisition to tell a story that you would think we could tell through copyright deposits, but cannot. Some of it is so ephemeral that I don’t think people thought to copyright it and some of it, more recent material, hasn’t been required to be deposited for copyright so we just didn’t acquire it. As an institution that has been so dependent on copyright deposit for its growth, until 1978 when the rules about what was required to be deposited changed, it’s really refreshing to have a popular culture collection come into the institution. It resets that type of collection and gives us what we’re lacking.

MR: I’ve heard that the Copyright department doesn’t necessarily keep a lot of what comes in…

SD: The majority of material sent in is reproductions, so if it’s not up to a standard that we consider acceptable, such as color photocopies, we are selective about what we acquire for the permanent collections. We want as original and as best an edition as we can possibly have. The changes in copyright law meant that people have copyright protection from the moment of creation so they no longer have to pay a fee to protect their interest and copyright, so we just don’t get the volume that we got 100 years ago.

MR: Did you take the Yellow Kid buttons?

SD: We’re intending to. We’re also getting the Mickey Mouse animation drawings for Plane Crazy, so sitting next to the ‘birth certificate’ for Spider-Man will now be the ‘birth certificate’ for Mickey Mouse and that’s a pretty enormous acquisition for the Library.

MR: The ones he donated to Mort Walker’s museum and then had to buy back when they auctioned them off to keep their doors open?

SD: It’s sad [when you consider] the number of cartoon museums that have closed in the last twenty years. Art Wood’s to Mort Walker’s to the Toonseum in Pittsburgh, and now Geppi. It’s a hard economy for something that’s so popular with America. It’s interesting that George Lucas is now opening an entertainment museum in California, but it seems like it’s a hard sell. Why is that? Is it that people of a certain income are willing to patronize fine art, but are not willing to patronize cartoon art? Is it just not enough of a draw to make people go back again and again? I certainly went to the Geppi Museum several times, and my son always had it on his required activity list for Baltimore. But apparently it wasn’t on enough people’s required activity list unfortunately. So who has benefited? It’s been larger repositories. 

MR: My suspicion is that most mid-size cities have a comprehensive art museum, such as Indianapolis or Omaha, that covers 1000 years of art history without anyone thinking twice about it, but a standalone specialty museum probably always have more trouble than any other type. You can have a science, or natural history, or art museum and people can find enough different things to keep coming back for. When it’s a specialized museum that doesn’t change, or not as often, it probably affects attendance.

SD: For small museums, with small staffs, I think it’s hard to build programming to get people in the door consistently. And for all museums, they’ll never make more than 15% of their revenue in admission fees. They’re dependent on grants, memberships, special events, things like that.

MR: What else should I have asked about?

SD: What I try to make clear to everybody, is that while the Library is honored to have this collection, we are very saddened by the circumstances that led it to coming here. They did the right thing. The museum code of ethics says you don’t sell your collection, but you donate it to another institution. It’s a magnanimous gift. It really is. Quite frankly, it blows my socks off. We could never afford to buy or build this collection. People think the Library of Congress has bottomless pockets, but we don’t. We can’t afford to compete at auction for comic books and cartoon art and posters. We can buy selectively, but very few items come to us each year by purchase compared to what we get from gifts. This gift is amazing.

I think we can do it justice. There will be people that will resent that we can’t recreate GEM in its entirety and we can’t, but anybody with a reader’s card is welcome to come in and make use of the collection.

MR: There’s always going to be a difference between a museum, a library, and an archive, and no museum can put everything on display anyway.

SD: Right, and our exhibit space represents the wealth of the Library’s collections, so the graphic arts display is always going to be much smaller than GEM’s footprint. We will start exhibiting selections later this summer and we have every intention of creating a space in which comics and other works from the collection are featured prominently. It’s going to be very difficult to get it down to the Library. The Bambi and Ten Commandments posters are 90 x 90 inches. Finding physical room to store it and make it accessible to researchers is going to be challenging to say the least, but it’s a labor of love.

There were about 125 pieces of ‘original art’ – hand-drawn comic strips and animation cels – but we consider the posters and ephemera to be original art, so what’s coming to Prints & Photographs is probably equal to the number of comic books. It might not be equal in monetary value, and people would argue if it’s equal in historical value, but I make a case that it is. Monetary value aside, original art, posters and ephemera are equally important in understanding American popular culture. It’s a very, very generous gift and not one that we could replicate any other way.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

An Interview on Dead Reckoning with editor Gary Thompson

by Mike Rhode

Annapolis, MD is about to become the home of a new comic book publisher. Dead Reckoning is the new imprint from the Naval Institute Press and will publish four graphic novels / memoirs / comic book collections in September. The editor of the line, Gary Thompson, sent me a set of the books and agreed to an email interview.

When was the Naval Institute Press established, and why? Was Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October its first foray into fiction?

The U.S. Naval Institute was founded in 1873 by a group of Naval Officers to serve as a forum outside of the chain of command in which they could discuss matters of professional interest in the Navy. At these meetings the initial members of the Institute would exchange ideas, discuss how to advance the knowledge of sea power, and consider ways to preserve our naval and maritime heritage. Eventually, the proceedings of those meetings were published and distributed throughout the fleet. These publications are what became our Proceedings magazine, which is still being published today.

Yes, The Hunt for Red October was the first book of fiction to be put out by the Naval Institute Press, the book publishing arm of the Naval Institute. Though we aren’t formally affiliated with the Navy or military, we do serve as the university press for the U.S. Naval Academy. For most of the history of the Naval Institute Press, which started back in 1898, you can easily see that relationship since the Press published mostly manuals on how to be a good sailor for the Academy. Since then the Press has branched out considerably. We still publish academic histories and professional development books, but eventually took on books of general interest, moved onto fiction, and now we are pressing on to graphic novels. 

When was the decision made to move into graphic novels / non-fiction?

We made the decision back in 2015 to move into graphic novels. I was in a meeting with the Press Director and he was asking me what I wanted to do next and how I wanted to move forward in my career. I put forward the idea of graphic novels thinking it would be dismissed immediately, but to the Director’s credit he instantly liked the idea. Then it became a matter of finding a book, then a question of why we would only do one book, then a presentation on why graphic novels are a growing market and a sound investment, and finally it was decided to make the leap into creating a whole imprint. 

How did the clever name come up for the imprint?

Actually, it was one of the first things that came to mind! It just had a cool ring to it. Of course, I put together a list of other candidates—I asked around, read through dictionaries of nautical terminology, researched mythologies and lore, even came up with a few that just sounded cool. Ultimately, I think everyone just liked Dead Reckoning. The more you thought about it the more applicable it felt. 

How many people work on the graphic novel line?

For now, I am the only person that is working exclusively for Dead Reckoning, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t several of us. For now, as this imprint gets off the ground, I am sharing the people and resources of the Naval Institute Press staff, so we have directors, marketing and publicity staff, production editors, and freelancers all working to make Dead Reckoning a successful imprint and to make our books as good as they can be. There’s about a dozen of us that have our hands in this pot, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people. 

What's your role in acquiring and shaping the books for publication?

I have a weird title: Graphic Novel Lead. I wish there were something more common I could give you, but that’s what I’ve got. Still, I think it shows that I do a little bit of everything here, though I gladly hand off duties beyond my ken to those who have a better grasp of them. My main function—or maybe it’s just the function I enjoy the most—is in acquisitions. I find as may projects as I can that I think would work, pitch the ones I think are worthwhile to our directors, then do what I can to make the deal, and finally work with the teams as an editor to help make their scripts and art the best version of their vision that they can be. And while acquisitions and editorial are almost exclusively my realm, I’ve probably played some part in every decision big or small. 

Out of your first four titles, two are memoirs of current wars, one is a 'funny animal' retelling of World War I, and one is a reprint of a classic comic book. What was the thinking behind launching the imprint with a fairly wide range of genres?

I don’t think of Trench Dogs as a funny animal book*, but that aside, the idea is to show a broad range of interests and approaches. So far, when we’ve been showing these off, we’ve had good reactions from people who all like the books, but one stands out as their favorite. I like to think that shows a positive response to this “something for everybody” approach. Machete Squad is a more literary memoir, The ‘Stan is more graphic journalism, Trench Dogs is a work of indie art, and The Best of Don Winslow of the Navy is classic comics. With that, we provide several different entry points for a wide variety of readers.

As a comics fan, I grew up reading lots of superheroes and monthly floppies, then I read tons of manga, then I really fell in love with indie comics. For me, that seemed like a natural progression and a way to always have something to read in this medium. Maybe I was naïve, but it took me a long time to realize that for most people these three readerships are completely unique and separate from each other. I think that’s a dumb idea. Comics, as a whole, is growing, the readership is expanding, and the way to cultivate life-long readers is to create content that reflects a wider variety of interests.

As we continue to grow, the titles we publish will get broader, partially because of my eclectic tastes, and partially to create as many ports of entry as possible.

For the books with multiple creators, do you put together a team to work on it (as children's books and mainstream comic books do), or do you accept a pre-existing proposal with the team already assembled?

I greatly, greatly prefer pre-existing teams. I have and will put more teams together in the future, but I’d rather that be the minority.

How many books do you plan to do a year? Is 2019's slate already full and in production?

We’ll have to see. We are starting for four titles in the Fall 2018 season, but will certainly be growing from there. For 2019 I’m aiming for around 10 titles and hoping to expand to an even dozen in 2020. I believe there’s still room to grow beyond that, but I’d hope to have another editor to help out by then!

Who do you see the audience being? Do you see sales through comic book stores, bookstores, or student book fairs? Are you anticipating strong library sales?

I see the audience as young, smart, and curious. I’m interested in making many of the topics we are looking to publish more accessible, but not childish or hand-holdy. Even though we won’t exclusively publish non-fiction, I see everything we print as being educational in some way, but that doesn’t mean is has to be didactic, just more realistic.

You should be able to find our books in comic shops (this first round will be solicited in the July Previews), book shops, and maybe even a specialty store or two. The library market is huge for graphic novels in general and we feel that our books would be a great fit for them. I’ll be at the American Library Association’s Annual Meeting later this month to meet with more librarians and talk about our upcoming slate.

Is the size of the proof books going to be the standard size of the line? (I'm thinking of the Don Winslow book in particular as it is about half the size of the original comic books).

No, the ARCs aren’t representative of the final sizes of the books. Most will be in the standard comic trim of 6-5/8 x 10-1/4”. Don Winslow will be 8-1/2 x 11” like most of Craig Yoe’s other books.

It’s funny you mention the size of the books (all of our ARCs being 6 x 9”) because I think that’s been a great example of how we have had to learn on the fly when transitioning our book publishing knowledge to graphic novel publishing knowledge. For the most part, when you are doing an ARC or review galley for a regular book, you can print them in a different trim or with various differences for whatever reason and it doesn’t really matter. People know that’s not a perfect representation of the final product. For the comic market, though, that doesn’t seem to be the case. As we have been sending out our ARCs we have fielded the question of their size more than I ever thought we would. Over time, we realized that most people in this part of the publishing world expect their early copies to be almost exactly the final product. So I imagine we will do something different for our Spring 2019 books.

Beyond that, I would say the final sizes of these initial four books are very representative of what we are looking for. Creators can certainly suggest trim sizes they think work better for their stories, but we are looking for books that are roughly between 128 and 250 pages. Classic collections like Don Winslow will tend to be longer than original works.

At its heart, Maus is a war memoir. Are you open to publishing books that would tell the story of the people that suffer from a war?

I would argue that all of our books are about people who suffer in war, but yes, I would love to see projects that are like Maus or similar. With books like Machete Squad and The ‘Stan, we put ourselves in a great position to tell the true stories of ground-level participants in our current ongoing wars. But the effects of war don’t stop with the men and women who fight them. We are just as interested in publishing stories of their aftermath and fallout.

Though our primary focus is military history, we are also interested in nautical and maritime stories, espionage stories, space exploration, and more. There’s a lot that come from a general area of interest. For example, it’s a goal of mine to eventually get a Macross or The Legend of the Galactic Heroes-style space drama. Not only because I’m a fan of those kinds of stories, but because I’d like for us to contribute to the long history of military science fiction that lead to them.

Are you looking into acquiring non-American material and publishing translations?

You will see books that we have licensed and translated starting in 2019!

There are several markets in the world that have long-standing traditions of publishing the kinds of books we are looking for, so it would be silly of me to ignore them. I’m happy to say that we have already made a number of agreements with foreign publishers and I’m always looking for more.

I've read three of the books you've sent so far, but want to ask about one specific story. Trench Dogs seems be largely a linear, but non-narrative depiction of the horrors of World War I as seen by each nation participating, all of which are depicted as different animals, until it reaches America and suddenly veers into race relations. Given that the animals are all depicted as one color anyway, and Americans are all cats, it's hard to tell what is happening and why, especially since it's outside of the main storyline. Can you give us some idea of what author Ian Densford wanted to do with this narrative twist?

This is a great point and I would love to address it.

So, spoilers, obviously, for the book that isn’t out yet, but it isn’t terribly narrative, so take that with a grain of salt. When Ian Densford and I were discussing the story he wanted to tell, he described it as something of a “floating camera” that would move its way from character to character and from front to front. In his efforts to show the absolute horrors of World War I, it was necessary to show several characters not only dying, buy dying in the abysmally terrific ways that were true and common for the conflict. So you usually only follow a character for a little while before they either die or pass on the “camera” in some other way. But the goal was to encompass the totality of the horrors of the war in one grand swoop. But, as I mentioned before, the effects of war don’t stop with the men and women who are immediately participating in them. They sow chaos and unrest in other ways. This was a topic of conversation when discussing how to end the book, and that brings us to the Harlem Hellfighters and the “Red Summer” race riots.

In Trench Dogs all of the different countries are represented by different animals, the Americans being cats. When we are introduced to the Harlem Hellfighters, an infantry unit made up mostly of African Americans, they are painted in the same way and with the same coloration as all other Americans. You see them at first being sneered at and being tasked with menial and offensive labor before they take on an attachment with the French army and are treated as equals, rather than inferiors. There, the Hellfighters preform some extraordinary feats and are both honored and decorated by the French. But when they get back to America, they are scorned yet again and attacked in the ensuing race riots, leading one member to run for his life at the very end, something he managed to avoid doing while at war.

But, as you say, there is a confusion there—a tension between the book and the reader, who likely doesn’t understand what is happening and why. Why are these men being treated so poorly? Why are people sneering and giving them dirty looks? Why are they being attacked? Then the KKK shows up, and it all fits into place.

Ian, rightly, stood his ground when we discussed this segment. I suggested we make them black cats or calico, just something to help out the reader. But for Ian the question and the confusion were more important. Why are these men being treated this way? They are no different than the men around them. They are serving their country and putting their lives on the line like everyone else.

Ultimately, racists find a way to hate, no matter what the difference is nor how consequential. Ian did not want to give people even that modicum of an opportunity to say these men are different. So that confusion you and other readers will have when reading that segment is Ian sitting on your shoulder and whispering in your ear, “Why is this happening? Why is this happening?” And you can’t answer it. There is no reason. Until the KKK show up. Then you know that regardless of reason, someone found a way.

Hopefully, as readers close the book and are left thinking about how much these men sacrificed and how they were subsequently treated, they will take a moment to think that we are in the centennial of the first World War, and will soon be in the centennial of the riots. Perhaps they will ask themselves, “Why is this happening?”

*It's not a conventional funny animal comic (you can see a list here), but that's the traditional term used, as anthropomorphic animal doesn't really roll off people's tongues. 

In keeping with our self-appointed mandate to cover local comics news, two other interviews with Thompson can be found at:  

Griepp, Milton. 2017.
ICv2 Interview: Gary Thompson On New Imprint; Dead Reckoning Will Specialize in Military and Naval GNs.ICv2 (October 20):

Sahadachny, Greg. 2018.
Debatable – Gary Thompson On Comics Imprint “Dead Reckoning”.

Debatable podcast (135; March 31): and

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Thom Zahler – An Interview with a BCC mainstay

Zahler at BCC in 2014

by Mike Rhode

Thom Zahler has been one of my favorites working long-term in a  ‘cartoony’ style in comic books. His Love and Capes series in particular used a series of Justice League analogues to tell a long romance story. He’s a regular at Baltimore Comic Con (BCC) and recently answered our usual interview questions.

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

I write and draw comics. I letter and color most of my own work, too. Basically, I do it all. (I did have a colorist on my recent Time and Vine series, though.)

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

These days, I’m mostly digital, in Clip Studio Paint, coloring in Photoshop and lettering in Illustrator. I still draw by hand when I can, especially commissions at conventions. And when I work on the right project, like My Little Pony, I do work traditionally so I have art for the resale market.

When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born? 

Early Seventies.

 What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

I took all the drawing classes I could in high school, as well as creative writing and working on the newspaper comic strip. After that, I went to and graduated from the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, New Jersey.

Who are your influences?

Curt Swan was the first artist I ever recognized. I wanted to be George Pérez like most people reading in the eighties. But Kurt Schaffenberger and Ty Templeton were big influences as I started finding my wheelhouse. And these days, it’s the late Darwyn Cooke.

You've got a very 'cartoony' style (which I love), but has it worked for or against you in getting jobs? Do you have a more "realistic" style?

I used my realistic style on my Raider book, which went nowhere. I think I can pull it off, but it’s like going uphill. And my realistic style isn’t as magnetic as my cartoon style. I’m a decent serviceable realistic artist but a good cartoon artist. So I’m going with my strengths.

The cartoony stuff has worked fine, but I’m also pitching it where I think it works. I’ve drawn Strawberry Shortcake covers, pitched on other cartoony stuff. I know I’m not the artist to draw monthly Superman books, so I’m not aiming for those.

The only difference it really makes is in the stories I choose to tell. I have a spy book I’d love to do, but I’m not the artist for it. But Warning Label, Love and Capes and even Time and Vine, I’m good for. I mentioned Darwyn Cooke before, and he’s who I follow. His stuff works on almost everything, but he also told very Darwyn Cooke stories.

Warning Label is partly about a woman board game designer - are you a gamer?

I play games, and wish I had the time and opportunity to play more, but I’m not hard core. Also, I don’t really play console games at all. It’s how I get things done.

 If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

I would take some art history classes. I wish that I had the opportunity to learn more about classic artists. I might have tried moving out to LA to pursue more writing opportunities.

 What work are you best-known for?

It's a toss-up. Love and Capes is what most comic readers know me from, but my work on My Little Pony is by far the biggest title I’ve had the privilege to work on.

Which came first, the Capes webcomic or the comic book?

The LNC print comic always came first. The four-panel beat thing was done for two reasons. One, back then everyone thought half-pages were the secret to webcomics, so being able to have a format that embraced that meant I could repurpose as a web strip if I liked doing the book but couldn’t afford to publish print editions. And two, four-panel beats is a natural comedic metronome to a guy like me who learned so much of his comedy from Bloom County.
How did you get involved with My Little Pony?

I was trying to impress my girlfriend at the time. She was a fan, and IDW was already publishing Love and Capes. So I asked if I could do a cover, because I knew they’d do a few. Bobby, the editor, knew my work and asked if I wanted to pitch the book. Not being an idiot, I said “Absolutely” and went home and mainlined the show to research it.

 What work are you most proud of?

I'm still very proud of the last arc of Love and Capes. It’s heartfelt and really sticks the landing, and part of why I haven’t ever come back to that. But, I feel like every new project is stretching my artistic muscles in new ways. I’m very happy with Warning Label.

Your new book, Time and Vine, is currently being published by IDW. What's it about? How long is it planned to run? 

It’s about a magical time traveling winery, where when you go into the right tasting room and you drink the right bottle of wine from 1912, you go back to 1912 until you sober up. It’s a four issue miniseries, each issue double-sized so it’s like eight issues total, and the last issue just came out. It’s built to do more when I’m ready, and when I have time.

My copies of #2 and 3 from my comics store had the same cover - I assume there was a mix-up in production?

Yeah, pretty much. Mistakes were made, they won’t happen again. The alternate covers, the 1980’s cover on #2 and the 1860’s cover on #3 did print correctly. So only half the issues of #3 are misprinted.

What would you like to do or work on in the future?

I'd like to write more animation. I’d like to work on some mainstream superhero book at some point. But past that, I am very happy with my personal, creator-owned work.

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

I take a lot of walks get over story points. And I’ll try to draw something fun to clear out the cobwebs as well.

What do you think will be the future of your field?

I think that I’m in a good place, but it should never be comfortable. Things have changed so much just in my short time in the field. There’s no way that I could have done Love and Capes ten years earlier. Computer coloring made things possible that I wouldn’t have been able to afford. And now, webcomics are getting my stories known in ways that I never expected.

My feeling is that the game is always changing. The only constant is that I have to learn to adapt to it.

How was your BCC experience? How often have you attended it?

I’ve been going to BCC for over ten years. It’s one of my favorite shows. I just adore it, and I love the fans and the pros and everything about it. My favorite thing about the show is that it’s still a comic book show. They’re surgical about bringing in media guests, and keep the focus on comics.
What's your favorite thing about Baltimore? Least favorite?

As far as Baltimore itself, I do love the inner harbor. The humidity.

What monument or museum do you like?

The Cleveland Art Museum and the Jefferson Memorial.

How about a favorite local restaurant?

My favorite place here in town, Taco Local, just closed. Right now it’s a place called Brim. And when I’m in Baltimore, Miss Shirley’s.

Where is "here in town?"

I live just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, birthplace of Superman.

 Do you have a website or blog?

Warning Label webcomic
 My website is I’m also on Twitter and Instagram @thomzahler

updated 10/24/2017 with gaming question

Monday, October 16, 2017

Shannon Gallant talks about leaving G.I. Joe for… G.I. Joe

By Mike Rhode
Shannon “S.L.” Gallant spoke recently on a panel on graphic novels at George Mason University’s Fall for the Book Festival. I last interviewed him in 2010 so it was about time to check in again. After the panel (which will be transcribed here in the future), we sat down for a quick talk.

You have just come off of what is supposed to be the longest run of an artist on the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comic book. How many issues did you draw?

I didn’t even count. I think the IDW guys said something like 70 or 75. I started on #161, which had a cover-date of November 2010, so that means I started before then timewise, and I just did my last issue three months ago, and that was issue #245. There were some fill-ins of various issues along the way.

You were mainly the penciler and didn’t ink yourself on the book?

Gallant inked by Earskine
The only thing I inked were covers. My first few covers were done by whoever the inker was on the book. Some were by Gary Erskine, and a couple were by Brian Shearer, but the last twenty or thirty or so that I did were inked by myself. That was the only inking that I did.

Larry Hama wrote the entire run that you worked on?

He did.

How did he give you the scripts? Was it thumbnails, or typescript? 

Larry works in the old Marvel style which is a springboard style – a synopsis of the page, rather than broken down on the page into panel-by-panel descriptions. He very rarely included any kind of dialogue, because he would script that later. It was basically just a synopsis of the page and he would say things like, “If I have more than one paragraph, consider the paragraph to be a panel,” but it wasn’t a hard rule. That’s generally how he worked.

So you’re leaving the main G.I. Joe title to do… another G.I. Joe title?
I am. It’s G.I.Joe versus the Six Million Dollar Man [jointly published by IDW and Dynamite]. It’s a period piece and I’m setting it in my head in 1981 so it’ll be between the end of the Six Million Dollar Man tv show and the beginning of the G.I. Joe cartoon. I’m modelling G.I. Joe more on the cartoon characters than on the comic book version. So the costumes are pretty much the same, but the characters backgrounds are slightly different.

Who’s writing it?

Ryan Ferrier. He’s done comics for a lot of companies, IDW and Dynamite included.

What kind of script is he giving you?

It’s more of a full script, panel-by-panel breakdowns with dialogue.

Who made the decision about when this was set it time?

It evolved out of everyone talking and deciding with Steve Austin being so set in the ‘70s because of the tv show and the fashions, and Dynamite has gone back from updating the character, to making it more like the classic character in most of their books. I wanted to do it [that way], and feel those books need to be period pieces. A lot of the G.I. Joe fans had issues when we started at IDW with the updating of characters and making everyone have cell phones, and computers, and laptops and iPads and so forth… so this is my way of doing a period piece. The research is one of the biggest hurdles for me on it.

Plus he’d be a Six Trillion Dollar Man now… You’ve said you do a lot of research. Since you’re setting this 35 years ago, are you doing a lot of research to see what buildings and cars looked like at the time?

I’m trying to. I trying to make sure that it at least feels like it’s set in 1981, as opposed to having people with iPods. You don’t want to make those kinds of mistakes. When I got the first script, there were references to an office building with computers on the tables, so I had a discussion with the editor, saying “Well, people didn’t have computers on their desk in 1981. There was a room you had to go to and use a computer.”

How many issues is it?

From what I understand it’s supposed to be four, depending on sales they may expand it.

You’ve also done work for American Mythology in Baltimore lately?

They do a lot of licensed properties. They do have some creator-owned stuff, but the work I’ve been doing for them is on their cartoon properties. They have the rights to Bullwinkle, Casper, Underdog… they started out with a license for Pink Panther and I did the Free Comic Book Day Pink Panther comic where he turns into Thor. Most of what I’ve done for them has been on their cartoon side, but they also do a Three Stooges comic and a Stargate comic.

Do you find it easy to switch styles between G.I. Joe and Pink Panther?

It’s something I’ve always had to do when I was working in advertising. I had to switch styles up a lot. That’s how I ended up as a staff illustrator which is pretty rare.  If they wanted a New Yorker-type comic style or something more realistic, or traditional advertising – that was something I was used to doing and I still enjoy. It keeps the batteries fresh.

Are you hoping to continue on the Six Million Dollar Man after this miniseries?

I enjoy the character. I wonder if it’s one of those things though. I read an interview with Adam Hughes once, about Star Trek, after he did the big Debt of Honor Star Trek graphic novel. He said, “No, I got that out of my system. I’m done with it.” So we’ll see if at the end of this if I’m over the Six Million Dollar Man.

Is there anything you would like to work on?

Dynamite has announced that they’re going to redo Swords of the Swashbucklers, and that’s a series I would love to get on. It was when I fell in love with Jackson “Butch” Guice’s artwork. I would love to do that because I love those characters. It was steampunky before steampunk was a thing. I was never into pirates until that but it’s got enough of a Star Wars feel to it. It’s a fun book.

Who’s writing that?

Marc Guggenheim, the producer of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow tv show.

Over the years at HeroesCon, you’ve become friendly with Butch?

Shadows drawn and inked by Gallant
He was introduced to me by our mutual friend Chris Sparks, who was friends with Butch for years and years. We email back and forth and are friendly acquaintances. I think he’s phenomenal. One of the things I really enjoy about his work – when I fell in love with it, back he was working on Swords of the Swashbucklers, and the work he’s doing now… if you look at his work then, and his work now, you wouldn’t guess it was the same person. Stylistically he has grown, but a lot of artists, when they hit a certain level, they plateau and they stay at that level and they don’t change. He’s still experimenting and trying different techniques. He’s gotten very obsessed with shadow work. To see his penciled pages and then to see what the final looks like… I still don’t know he makes that leap. I’ve asked him multiple times, “how do you approach your shadows, because what you’re penciling, and what I’m seeing in the final product, makes it almost seem like two different people did the book.”