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    TFAW Presents: An Exclusive Interview With Darby Pop CEO Jeff Kline

    If the name Darby Pop doesn’t sound familiar to you, don’t feel bad — for years, the company partnered with IDW and then Magnetic Press to get its books to market. However, thanks to the success of comics like Indestructible and Side-Kicked, Darby Pop is ready to fly solo. In an unprecedented move, Darby Pop is breaking away from IDW and selling its books directly.

    Jeff Kline

    To celebrate this momentous occasion, we interviewed Jeff Kline, the esteemed CEO of Darby Pop. Even if his name isn’t familiar, you’re likely familiar with Kline’s work, which includes Transformers: Prime, Jackie Chan Adventures, Extreme Ghostbusters, and much more!

    Read on for an in-depth look at the origins of Darby Pop, the trials and tribulations of the comic industry, and a glimpse into the life of Jeff Kline.

    TFAW.com: For our readers who may not know about you and your company, tell us a bit about yourself and Darby Pop.

    Transformers Prime

    Jeff Kline: I’ve been a writer/showrunner in TV for more than two decades. Although I’ve worked extensively in both live-action and animation over the years, my cartoon series – i.e. Transformers: Prime, Jackie Chan Adventures, Men in Black: The Animated Series, etc. – tend to stay on-air much longer than my live-action ones. Much to my Mother’s dismay (‘cuz, apparently, bragging rights at the salon are limited when a son’s output airs in the daytime vs. nighttime). Anyway…

    When my daughter, Darby – yes, that’s where the name of the company comes from – turned five, my Wife and I opted to leave Los Angeles and move to New England. For the better part of the next six years, I commuted between the coasts every 7-10 days to develop/produce the last three Transformers series, G.I. Joe Renegades and some other bits and pieces for Hasbro. But when my Wife finally grew tired of idling in front of airports, I moved “home” fulltime.

    Simultaneously, and as a lifelong comics fan, I had been considering self-publishing a book (which eventually became Indestructible), and made the mistake of telling others re: my plans. Immediately, I learned that a whole bunch of my writer and artist friends in L.A. also dreamed of making comics. Which may strike some as strange, since many people use comics as a stepping-stone to movies/TV. But, the truth is, it can be very hard to “break into” the comics industry even if you have substantial credits in other art forms. Long story short, I decided to revise my plans, and create an entry point for friends, old and new, who are as passionate about sequential storytelling as I am. And Darby Pop Publishing, Inc. was born.

    We partnered with IDW Publishing for distribution, becoming their first creator-owned imprint (I believe). Announced our intentions at SDCC ’13. Dropped our first floppy (Indestructible #1) in December ‘13. And have released some 70+ separate issues/trades in the ensuing three and a half years.

    “Both IDW and Magnetic proved invaluable insofar as both expertise and credibility were concerned.”

    Indestructable

    TFAW.com: Speaking of IDW, why did you choose now to separate from them?

    JK: Actually, we spent about two years with IDW, and then moved our distribution over to Magnetic Press. We were always wholly independent when it came to editorial, but with my experience with the business side of the comic book industry being limited to purchasing floppies from spinner racks, I really didn’t want to fly solo at the start. Both IDW and Magnetic proved invaluable insofar as both expertise and credibility were concerned. But, when Magnetic became part of Lion Forge, I realized that Darby Pop now had a team in place that had been together for a few years – Renae Geerlings, Managing Editor; Kristine Chester, Director of Marketing; Michael Berreth, VP of Promotions, etc. – and deserved the opportunity to go it alone. (Well… with the help of Diamond, of course).

    TFAW.com: A new start is going to bring a lot of new fans who want to check out your books. If someone wanted to check out Darby Pop, where would you recommend they start?

    JK: Start with our website: www.darbypop.com. There you’ll find information re: all our titles to-date and those “coming soon.” There are also “talent” bios, random musings, our webstore, a brief manifesto, submissions policy, etc. etc.

    After that, read Issue #1 of whichever book sounds the most interesting to you. If you hate it, you’re probably not going to like most of the other stuff we publish… ‘cuz while we cover a lot of ground when it comes to genre and art style, there is a unifying aesthetic – built largely around the triumvirate of high-concept, surprising, and fun.

    If you like what you read, then please dig deeper. Visit our Facebook (facebook.com/DarbyPopPublishing), Twitter (@DarbyPopComics), and Instagram (@DarbyPop). Then ask your local retailer to order you one or many of our books. And come see us at any of the 20 or so Cons we set-up at each year (ECCC, C2E2, NYCC, to name a few). Honestly, we like the whole face-to-face thing best, but we understand that not everyone wants my teenage daughter screaming at ‘em: “Hey, YOU in the Deadpool t-shirt… what’re you reading???”

    “I truly believe every one of our books is well-crafted, well-produced, and well worth your time/money.”

    TFAW.com: Who knows, that just may work! You’ve mentioned this a few times before that the comics industry is definitely a challenging one. What’s the single most challenging thing about the comics industry you’ve discovered?

    JK: I think, for us, the most challenging aspect of the comic book industry is “selling” to two different markets simultaneously. On the one hand, we need to convince comic book retailers to take a chance on us… to stock us even though they might well be dealing with limited resources and even more limited shelf space. On the other hand, we’re desperately trying to reach out directly to readers; if they don’t go their local store and ask for one of Darby Pop’s titles (or order same on Amazon or through ComiXology, etc.), it’s nearly impossible for us to compete with the established players and their well-known franchises.

    Bottom line: we’re a small company with limited resources. I truly believe every one of our books is well-crafted, well-produced, and well worth your time/money. But, chances are pretty good that even some of the folks reading this interview have never heard of Darby Pop Publishing or any of our titles, so…

    Indestructable

    TFAW.com: Hopefully we’re able to help spread the word to our customers, as we definitely think your comics are worth reading! You mentioned earlier that you’ve worked on numerous Hasbro properties, including being executive producer on the Emmy Award-winning Transformers: Prime. How has your experience in that industry helped you in the comic industry?

    JK: Storytelling in television and storytelling in comics is often strikingly similar. In both, you’re planning for long-term and short-term story arcs simultaneously… the characters are the bedrock… and the visuals need to work in conjunction with the whole. And being a showrunner in animated TV definitely gave me a leg up for my work as an editor in comics: reworking scripts, collaborating with artists, making choices re: color palette and graphic design, even plotting marketing initiatives.

    TFAW.com: What advice can you give to other independent publishers who are trying to make it in the comic industry?

    JK: The comics industry is incredibly challenging. As I mentioned, there are some very big, very established players hogging the ball. And having a great idea, or even great execution, isn’t enough; you have to find a way/ways to get your work into the hands of those who can and will appreciate it. In my experience – and in comparing notes with other creators/publishers/professionals – you have to be prepared to put in A LOT of unpaid hours, and pay a lot of bills with your own credit card. Honestly, if comics isn’t something you’re very passionate about, there are probably better, “safer” ways to scratch a creative itch.

    ““Breaking Into Comics” is a very important initiative to me…”

    Side-Kicked Vol 1

    TFAW.com: One thing you and your company have committed themselves to is helping others break into the industry, such as frequently running contests with the objective of getting undiscovered writers and artists noticed. Has there been any major successes, i.e. someone who won and went on to work in the industry in a larger capacity?

    JK: We’ve run three of our “Breaking Into Comics” contests thusfar; the labors of our most recent winners will be featured in the expanded, reprint edition of the Side-Kicked TPB (Vol. 1.5) we’re dropping in July. (The first print run of the Side-Kicked TPB has completely sold out).

    “Breaking Into Comics” is a very important initiative to me because I was fortunate enough to have a couple of insanely supportive mentors when I was beginning my TV career, and I firmly believe in paying same forward. While the barrier to entry in comics is low, the barrier to distribution is high. So, if Darby Pop can help some deserving but (relatively) unknown talent get a bit of national or international exposure…

    As far as a “success” story: Jeff Marsick won our first “Breaking Into Comics” contest with his script for the Indestructible: Stingray one-shot we published. And we liked working with Jeff so much, we published the trade paperback of his next effort, Dead Man’s Party. And we currently have him working on something else for us right this minute.

    TFAW.com: Let’s say the field is open for you to work with anyone. Who is the one writer and artist you’d love to work with at Darby Pop?

    JK: There is no one writer and/or artist I’m dying to work with. We strive to partner with anyone who’s passionate… who believes in the value of collaboration… and who won’t drive Renae Geerlings absolutely insane when it comes to hitting a delivery schedule.

    “…if Simon Pegg and Nick Frost would consider reuniting for Indestructible… my Mother might finally be satisfied.”

    TFAW.com: Let’s dig a bit into Jeff Kline. Outside of Darby Pop comics, what are you currently reading?

    JK: When I’m not reading comics, I’m pretty obsessed with biographies. (No, I’m not sure why). Right now, I’m listening to the David Letterman bio in my car while I read Michael Nesmith’s (of the Monkees) autobiography late at night.

    The Adventures of Martin and Lewis

    TFAW.com: If there is one cancelled comic series that you could bring back (from any publisher) what would it be and why?

    JK: Dean Martin is my idol; has been (I’ve been told) since I was a little kid wandering around our micro-townhouse in a bathrobe singing “Everybody Loves Somebody.” So, if DC was willing to trust Darby Pop with the license to “The Adventures of Martin and Lewis…” (Are you listening, DC?)

    TFAW.com: Comic book movies are huge at the moment. Which Darby Pop title would translate best to a film and who is your dream cast?

    JK: I truly believe that any/all of our titles would – and should be – translated to movies and/or TV. But, from a wholly selfish perspective, if Simon Pegg and Nick Frost would consider reuniting for Indestructible… my Mother might finally be satisfied.
    (And since the Deluxe reprint edition of the sold-out Indestructible: Not So Much… Vol. 1 Trade Paperback also drops in July it would be pretty painless for ‘em both to get up to speed…)

    TFAW.com: Pegg, Frost, and Indestructible sounds like a recipe for success! We’re excited for the future of Darby Pop and we know you’ve got a lot of great things on the horizon. Any good teasers that will get our readers excited?

    JK: In August we’re dropping a sci-fi/horror TP titled Things You Shouldn’t Remember. In brief: random people across the U.S. suddenly recall random things – song lyrics, events, minute details – that seem to have been erased from both collective memory and recorded history. Unfortunately, those same people start turning up dead.

    In September, we release Bastard’s Waltz, a gritty thriller about an aging supervillain and the young Secret Service Agent assigned to protect him. As with all of our titles, Bastard’s Waltz both honors and reimagines some classic comic book tropes. And, from an art perspective, it looks like nothing else we’ve published to-date.

    Bottom line: Darby Pop Publishing is a labor of love, not just for me but for nearly everyone who’s chosen to work with us. We aren’t the biggest. We probably aren’t the best. But, I do promise that we care deeply about every, single thing we put our name on. Mostly ‘cuz I can’t be slapping my daughter’s moniker on just ANYTHING. I mean, I’m not a Kardashian.

    TFAW.com: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Jeff!

    Do you want to check out Darby Pop’s comics? Check out our selection and let us know what you think!

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    Interview with Joelle Jones and Preview of Lady Killer 2 #1

    Interview with Joelle Jones

    lady killer 2, #1 coverWhat can be more all-American than a housewife who hosts Tupperware parties, has a hot meal on the table for her busy husband when he comes home, and is always ready with a kind word and plate of hot cookies for her children after a tough day of school? Well, if you’re Josie Schuller, you’ve got one more thing to juggle, because she’s also a killer, running a successful assassination business on the side. I mean, a girl’s gotta have something to break up the monotony, right?

    We first met Josie and the whole Schuller family in writer Joëlle Jones’ Eisner award-nominated Lady Killer series, but for the new storyline, they’ve just moved into a picture-perfect Cocoa Beach, Florida during the early years of the Space Race (the 1960s). Like Desperate Housewives, all the women in Cocoa Beach have lives completely independent of their worker-bee husbands, and while Josie is clearly trying to fit in with her Tupperware party, it’s a catty community of insecure, snotty women and she’s not really someone you want to piss off.

    The bigger problem is that someone else in the family actually knows her side job and doesn’t like it much at all. But would you want to confront the stone-cold killer in your family, or would you try your very best to stay on their good side? Yeah, me too.

    There’s a breezy fun about Jones’ story, a sort of Stepford Wives meets The Long Kiss Goodnight that is eminently readable — I’m definitely ready for the next installment as this first issue ends in a huge cliffhanger! — enhanced by the wonderful artwork of Michelle Madsen. Indeed, Madsen could easily be straight out of a time machine from an ad agency in the 1960’s, so faithfully does she capture technicolor shades of the era and enhances Jones’ art.

    Lady Killer 2 #1 Preview

    We were lucky to catch up with Joëlle to ask her a few questions about the Lady Killer 2 series. Here’s what she shared with us:

    TFAW: What was your original inspiration for the Lady Killer series? I loved the first series, where will you be taking Josie this time around?

    Joëlle Jones: The Schuller family has moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida, where life carries on as usual. Josie continues to juggle Tupperware parties, her kids, and a few human heads. However, when someone from her past tails her on a hit, she may be in for more than she bargained for.

    lady killer tpbTFAW: You chose a female protagonist with a decidedly dark side, then set it in ’60s America. What appeals to you about the tensions and duality of that era and her “side” job?

    Jones: I’ve always been drawn to stories about people with dual natures…and I thought setting the series in this particular time in American history really highlights that duality.

    TFAW: From the artwork, we figure that Lady Killer 2 takes place concurrent with the Space Race that was such a prominent part of Florida in the ’60s. Is that going to be woven into the story?

    Jones: Yes! Josie and her family move to Cocoa Beach because of her husband’s job. He works for a company that is connected to the aerospace industry..

    TFAW: Really love your style of art in this story too. How do you stay true to the ’60s artistic sensibility while still offering the visual pizazz that modern readers demand?

    Lady Killer 2 #1 PreviewJones: I’m constantly looking at the great illustrators from that mid-century period. I also try to keep up with current comics. So, I suppose those to things merge in my mind and translate to the page.

    TFAW: A family where Mom has a secret identity. Any chance Dad or the rather witchy mother-in-law might have something up their proverbial sleeve?

    Jones: Probably! But I’m not going to tell you about that here. I guess you’ll just have to read and find out!

    TFAW: You’ve brought Michelle Madsen in for the fun this time around. How did she become involved with Lady Killer 2?

    Jones: We only had Laura Allred for the first series and filling her shoes was a daunting task. I’ve always loved Michelle’s work and when we got the opportunity to bring her on to the team I was pleased as punch! She’s a perfect fit for the book. Amazing work!

    TFAW: For those who haven’t discovered Lady Killer yet, what’s your elevator pitch for the series?

    Jones: Ha! I get asked this a lot. “Donna Reed meets Dexter.”

    TFAW: What other projects are you working on right now?

    Jones: I’m going to be very busy for the next two years but I really can’t talk about it. Lots of exciting stuff!

    TFAW: What comic books are you enjoying right now?

    Jones: I just finished reading Harrow County and I loved it! Thought it was fantastic. I’ve been digging some of the DC Rebirth books and I’ve also been going back to some 90’s Punisher books. All great stuff!

    Lady Killer 2, #1, written by Joëlle Jones, art by Jones and Michelle Madsen. he first issue will arrive August 3, 2016, and the first two issues are available for pre-order – and you’ll want to pre-order this one, gang!

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    Exclusive Interview With Robert Kirkman

    Walking DeadAs we journey deeper and deeper into Image Month at TFAW.com, we continue to highlight great titles and creators from one of the largest independent publishers in the industry.

    We had the chance to chat with Robert Kirkman about all of the things on his plate, including upcoming projects, his ongoing series, The Walking Dead TV series, and more!

    TFAW.com: As you may know from our video reviews, we’re huge fans of The Walking Dead, so first we have to say, “Thank you!”

    Robert Kirkman: You’re welcome!

    TFAW.com: The series has been ongoing for more than seven years: did you think it would go this long?

    Kirkman: I’d always hoped but never really thought it would, at least early on. It was always marketed as “the zombie story that never ends” and at the time, most of the books I’d done had, y’know . . . ended. So I was really nervous going in that we’d struggle to make it to issue #12. Luckily that didn’t happen because otherwise I would have looked like a fool.

    TFAW.com: Who’s the character you’ve enjoyed killing off the most?

    Kirkman: I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve actually enjoyed killing any of them. I knew that Lori and Judith and of course Tyreese would get a big rise out of the audience, and that was exciting but I’ve been sorry to see pretty much every character that has died go. Even the Governor . . . he was fun to write.

    TFAW.com: In the latest issues, our group of survivors has been going down a dark path: they’re in a seemingly welcoming, benign community, and they’re planning to take it over at the slightest provocation. Do you think this is a natural progression for them, thanks to their experiences thus far?

    Kirkman: I hope it is. Nothing could be worse than something like this seeming tacked on or like it’s coming out of left field or whatever. For the last . . . whew five years or so we’ve been building to this. So yeah, this is what happens when people get twisted and distorted by the world around them. The only question now is can they come back from this ledge or have they already crossed it?

    TFAW.com: It’s chilling to look at where Rick and company are now and think about how the Governor got where he is. How dark are they going to get?

    Kirkman: Well, I can’t answer that here now can I? I will say that to get to the point of the Governor, I believe that you have to have some kind of spark of evil in you to begin with. Let’s hope Rick and the rest weren’t harboring the same spark.

    TFAW.com: As the series continues, the zombies seem like less of a threat and other people seem like more of threat. Was this your intention all along?

    Kirkman: Absolutely. This book has never been about the zombies. There will always be periods of downtime and as our characters adapt to this new world, they’re naturally going to grow accustomed to zombies and learn to avoid them. Although I must say they’ll never get to the point where they pose no threat at all. I’m just trying to lull readers into a false sense of security right now.

    TFAW.com: So Rick and the gang seem to be in a safe, friendly community, but in The Walking Dead, things are never what they seem. Will Douglas turn out to be evil?

    Kirkman: I feel like that would be a bit too obvious and a little too much like the Governor in Woodbury. I gotta keep things interesting, y’know? So no . . . I don’t see Douglas as the bad guy . . . he’s got a much more important role to play.

    TFAW.com: This town seems to have a dirty secret that’s haunting the inhabitants. When will we discover what this is?

    Kirkman: Don’t hold me to this . . . but #76 . . .

    TFAW.com: We loved the brief flashback of Michonne and her sword. Will we see more flashbacks of the other characters?

    Kirkman: I’m not a fan of them, but like the Michonne flashback, when they seem called for, I’ll slot them in. For me, this book is about moving forward, not what came before.

    TFAW.com: Looking back at all of the success and acclaim The Walking Dead has received, is there anything you would have changed?

    Kirkman: I really miss Axel, so I might not have killed him so soon. And Rick’s hand . . . I don’t know that I would have cut that off . . . that scene would have been just as shocking if it had been a couple fingers right? I don’t know . . . maybe the book wouldn’t be as good if he hadn’t lost his hand the way he did. I like to think one of the things that makes this book good is the fact that I don’t really second guess myself much at all. Well, that and Charlie Adlard’s art. Once I decide that something is cool and will work in the series, I usually stick to my guns. Very rarely do I change course.

    TFAW.com: We’ve seen stills from the production of The Walking Dead television series on AMC, and they look pretty rad, how’s production coming along?
    Watch out, she's gonna grab your leg!

    Kirkman: Great. They start filming episode four in a few days . . . so they’re trucking along and all I can really say is that everyone has been a dream to work with. Frank [Darabont] is doing amazing work, Gale [Anne Hurd] is just awesome at what she does and AMC has been a real treat to work with. This show is something unlike anything that’s ever been on television before. I think people are just going to flip out when they see what we’ve done here.

    TFAW.com: You’re also writing an episode of the show, is that right?

    Kirkman: Yeah, the episode they’re about to start filming, episode four, actually. It was a pretty cool experience, I got the chance to work in an actual writer’s room with series writers Chic Eglee, Jack LoGiudice and Adam Fierro and it’s been a real treat getting to learn the process and see how it all works. I also got direct guidance from Frank Darabont himself, which is really just priceless. He’s such a talented screenwriter, his advice should be written on stone tablets and have religions based on it.

    TFAW.com: What went through your head when you heard that AMC was interested in the series?

    Kirkman: AMC is such an amazing network. They’ve had two major successes in Mad Men and Breaking Bad and they’ve expanded at a very slow, deliberate rate . . . it’s pretty unusual. I was thrilled they were interested in The Walking Dead, and now that I know a lot of the other things they’re developing for other new shows, I think the network is just going to continue to get better and better. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of their network.

    TFAW.com: Both The Walking Dead and Invincible will hit issue #75 shortly. What surprises are in store?

    Invincible 75 Kirkman: TONS. Invincible is going to be HUGE . . . that issue covers a major, MAJOR battle of the Viltrumite War and leads to a lot of changes in the book. It’s going to have an insane 36-page main story by Ryan [Ottley] and I and the usual Science Dog back-up by Cory [Walker] and I . . . it’s going to rock. The Walking Dead is going to have a major turning point in the story of the community. Just look at the cover . . . you’ll get a sense of what’s going on.

    TFAW.com: What’s coming up for Mark in Invincible?

    Kirkman: The Viltrumite War will be raging on all the way up to issue #78 and that’s going to feature some drastic changes to the series and some big turning points. After that Invincible will return to Earth and so much time has passed by that point . . . things are going to be a little . . . different.

    TFAW.com: How will his relationship with Oliver evolve?

    Kirkman: It may be coming to an abrupt end . . . or maybe not.

    TFAW.com: Will Nolan be back in the picture?

    Kirkman: That would be telling . . .

    TFAW.com: We love that the story arc names come from classic sitcoms. When can we expect “Full House” and “Step by Step”?

    Kirkman: Eventually, I’m sure.

    TFAW.com: You were named a partner at Image a couple years back. How have things changed for you since then?

    Kirkman: I’ve got a few more administrative duties and I have an active hand in trying to steer the company toward good things, but my involvement, like all the partners, is somewhat limited. All the day-to-day things are handled by the publisher, Eric Stephenson. He’s the one approving new books and making the comics happen.

    TFAW.com: Your Pilot Season comics are starting to hit now, can you tell us a little more about the project?

    Kirkman: It’s a series of five one-shots, all new concepts created by myself and Marc Silvestri, and it’s a cool competition where after all five are released, the fans are going to vote on which of the five they’d like to see continue, and then I’m going to write a four-issue miniseries of the winner. It’s a lot of fun and a cool way to get new concepts out there.

    TFAW.com: It might be like asking which child is your favorite, but which one of the Pilot Season titles is your favorite so far?

    Kirkman: Usually the one I was writing at the time was the one I liked the most. But now I’ve written them all. Hardcore was the one I wrote last . . . so I’m partial to that, but it’s impossible to pick a favorite, I’d be thrilled to write four more issues of all of them. So much so that I just might.

    The Astounding Wolf-Man #24TFAW.com: We’re only a couple of issues away from the conclusion to The Astounding Wolfman. Looking back, how’s that ride been?

    Kirkman: It’s been great working with Jason Howard . . . so much so that I plan on continuing to do so. The series has been a lot of fun. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do and it’s been fun to get to end a series in exactly how I wanted with as much time as I wanted.

    I’m really looking forward to going back and reading the whole series some day, far in the future, when I can look at it objectively. I think Jason and I have done some cool stuff . . . and the trades will be available for a good long time, so anyone who isn’t reading the book currently has plenty of opportunity to give it a read.

    TFAW.com: With everything on your plate, what are you most excited about?

    Kirkman: Spending time with my kids? Seriously, between Haunt, Image United, The Walking Dead, Invincible, Guarding the Globe, The Astounding Wolf-Man and Pilot Season . . . it’s hard to pick a favorite. Whatever I’m working on at the time is usually my favorite.

    We want to thank Robert Kirkman for taking time out of his seriously busy schedule to answer a few of our questions.

    Check out all of Kirkman’s comic book projects here

    Super psyched to for the upcoming developments in The Astounding Wolfman, Invincible or The Walking Dead? Which Pilot Season title are you looking forward to the most? Let us know below.

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    Applegeeks! TFAW.com Talks Sexy Robots With Creators
    Ananth Panagariya and Mohammed F. Haque

    This Wednesday, Applegeeks Volume 1: Freshman Year will be bursting forth from its online home to the printed page for the very first time. For those of you presently unfamiliar, Applegeeks is, in a word, awesome. More specifically, it is an insightful, eclectic, and hilarious observation of all things geek that has delighted readers for six years and is poised to delight even more with the release of the first trade paperback.

    Applegeeks Volume 1 contains the first two year’s worth of the series, along with creator insights for each and every strip, and a whole mess of bonus art goodies to boot! We included three comics in the interview, but you can check out the full 12 page preview here.

    TFAW.com recently had a chance to catch up with the creative duo behind AG, artist Mohammed F. “Hawk” Haque and writer Ananth Panagariya, to chat about their upcoming TPB and the long, twisted, and entertaining road that brought them here. It was an informative, and laugh-filled talk that spans the gamut from sexy female robots to what it takes to succeed in webcomics. Enjoy!

    TFAW.com: Hi guys, thanks for taking some time to talk Applegeeks with us today.

    Ananth: Our pleasure, Andrew! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

    Hawk: Thanks for having us!

    TFAW.com: Our readers run the gamut from those who follow the exploits of Hawk, Jayce, and company with stalker-like fanaticism, to those who are still relatively new to the “interwebs.” Will you give us the dreaded “summarize six years of work concisely” synopsis?

    Ananth: Hahaha, oh man, we really do dread this. Um . . . to be really concise, Applegeeks has been a six-year exploration of all things geek. Tech stuff, computer wars, comic books, movies, and popular media . . . I’d say we’ve touched on all of these things at least a couple of times. Applegeeks is actually about Hawk, Jayce, Alice, Gina, Eve, and a whole cast of characters that bounce around inside this world that I’d essentially liken to a geek’s paradise.

    Hawk: Applegeeks has a sexy, cute, beautiful female bot that was built out of Mac parts. Oh yeah, it also has few other characters, but it has a sexy, cute, beautiful female robot. I think that pretty sums it up.


    TFAW.com: And how did that road bring you to the here and now, with the release of Applegeeks Volume 1: Freshman Year, just over the horizon?

    Hawk: To be honest, I never dreamed we would make it this far. It is still a shock for me. I always thought we would give up in a few months and move on.

    Ananth: We kept plugging away at it . . . when we started Applegeeks, we did it on a lark. People liked what we were doing, so we increased our update schedule and slowly added new features like a forum, Applegeeks Lite, and most recently Twitter feeds. Our idea has always been to bring interesting content to our audience. The one thing we never did accomplish on our own was putting out a book, and this was something people were asking for from day one. We were just getting ready to put together a black and white Applegeeks Lite book on our own when Dark Horse contacted us. The rest, as they say, is history.

    TFAW.com: Prior to this volume, had you attempted to translate the AG world to print? Were there any particular challenges that stemmed from shifting mediums?

    Ananth: We’ve had a lot of false starts, mostly due to our somewhat rigorous work schedules. Back when we started Applegeeks we laughed off the notion of doing print collections, but we chose a standard format just to be on the safe side. This is what saved us! The transition over to print has been made pretty smooth by Dark Horse–they took a lot of time and care in making sure the comics are presented in a way that complements the style of Applegeeks. This is a testament to the patience of our editor Samantha Robertson and Dark Horse designer Tina Alessi . . . we went back and forth quite a bit before settling on the book’s design ethic, which I think looks great and is true to the comic’s geek background.

    Hawk: We thought about it and there were a lot of variables to consider. The time to put a book together was a huge variable.

    Ananth: What we’re secretly trying to tell you is that we’re easily distracted.

    Hawk: Ooh, shiny!

    TFAW.com: Freshman Year encapsulates all of the Applegeeks webcomics from 2003 and 2004, but you’ve got a huge reserve of material still waiting in the wings. I don’t want to spoil anything for the uninitiated, but as a retrospective, what changes (if any) have you seen in the comic’s focus, message, presentation, etc. when looking back over such an extensive period?

    Hawk: Oh god, looking back at the old pages . . . my art really sucked. It really shows how my art skills evolved over time. I hope when artists look at the art and see the changes, it motivates them not to give up, to keep pushing themselves.

    Ananth: There’s a point at which Hawk and I decided to try something a little different–we began to go a more serious route, and this is when a lot of the Applegeeks universe-building began. Most of it was spurred on by the appearance of Eve, who joins the cast towards the end of Volume 1.

    TFAW.com: How much of this was intentional (i.e. planned) compared to what evolved, or devolved, organically?

    Ananth: It was intentional in that we always meant for Applegeeks to be a sandbox within which we could test our chops for various styles and approaches to comics. We never planned to do anything particularly serious when Applegeeks started, but our approach probably predisposed us to trying it out some day.

    Hawk: When it comes to art, my goal is always to push myself. To make the next comic look even better.


    TFAW.com: Let’s shift gears from process to character for a bit. In Freshman Year it’s repeatedly stated that Jayce, while occasionally serving as surrogate for Ananth, is not meant to be a stand in. That being said, it’s intimated that Hawk does serve such a function to some degree. What say you? How far do the similarities go?

    Ananth: Hahaha, you are plying dangerous waters! A lot of the comics that we do are based on conversation we have in real life, i.e. “It would be funny if X happened.” I don’t know, I feel like I’m revealing his hideous secrets! You should ask him, seriously.

    TFAW.com: Hawk?

    Hawk: I think the squirrel can answer that.

    TFAW.com: And as far as Alice, Gina, and Eve–are they indebted in terms of appearance or attitude to any real-world contemporaries?

    Ananth: Alice and Eve aren’t based on anyone in particular, but Gina has a strange arc. She started off based on someone I knew in high school, but she began to develop as a strong female character and now she’s loosely based on one of my closest friends, whom I met on the Internet when I was 10. If that doesn’t solidify nerd cred, I don’t know what does.

    Hawk: From my point of view, I try to understand the characters through the scripts.

    TFAW.com: And the squirrel . . . ? I have to ask, because a good friend of mine used to think he could psychically command squirrels, so I’m wondering if this may be some sort of Sciuridae conspiracy to influence pop culture and what role you’re playing in it?

    Hawk: Hehe, the squirrel was something I dropped in the background. He was not written in the script originally. For some reason I was thinking about the squirrels on University campus and decided to draw a squirrel stealing a donut. He became an instant hit with our readers.

    Ananth: Haha, we’ve never tried to psychically control them! They may have tried to control us at some point. No, the squirrels come from a long-running joke about Ramadan, which is a month out of the year where Hawk can’t eat until sundown. In college, we would walk around campus and Hawk would watch those little squirrels nibbling away at their acorns and he’d just go a little crazy. He was positive they were taunting him while he was trudging around, starving.

    Hawk: Those little bastards.

    TFAW.com: I know you have, for lack of a better word, side projects and initiatives you work on. Can you share anything about them, and the role they play in maintaining/hastening the decay of one’s sanity when you’ve got a commitment to a project as time intensive as Applegeeks?

    Ananth: Oh man, there have been quite a few over the years, and they definitely all sap our sanity. We’ve done a couple of comic shorts for various anthologies over the years. I write fiction on and off. I started a designer t-shirt company a year or two ago, which has sort of folded into Johnnywander.com, another webcomic I’m doing with Yuko Ota (there are a little over 50 comics up!). I’m also working on a full-length graphic novel right now that is shaping up to be pretty good, also with Yuko Ota, but I shouldn’t say more quite yet! Oh, and finally I freelance on and off for a couple of clients here and there, but I suppose that’s more “work” work.

    Hawk: The only side projects I got going on are illustrations I’m doing for clients at my job.

    TFAW.com: Got any advice for someone wanting to start a webcomic?

    Ananth: DON’T DO IT. Just kidding, you should go for it! Just know that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and there’s not a big payoff in the short term. Do it because you want to engage people . . . do it for the right reasons! Man, I could give you advice for hours . . . come see us at a show and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have! We’re always excited to talk to our readership . . . it’s part of the magic of webcomics (waves hands mysteriously)!

    Hawk: If you want to make your own webcomic, make sure you stand out from the rest. For example, there are too many webcomics about gaming, or trying to be the next Penny Arcade. Why not put something out there that no one has ever seen before?


    TFAW.com: Any secret, or not so secret, projects in the works?

    Ananth: Johnnywander.com is my newest project, as well as the aforementioned graphic novel, which I can’t say more about right this moment!

    Hawk: I work full time as a designer/graphic artist. So basically I’m working on two major things, work and AG. Sadly I don’t have time to work on anything else. I would love to work on other projects.

    Ananth: Any chance that project is called “sleeping”?

    TFAW.com: Any last words for the readers?

    Ananth: Thank you for reading!! None of this would have happened without you guys, and we’re always grateful for that!

    Hawk: Yeah! Thanks for sticking with us for so long!

    TFAW.com: Thank you both for taking some time to talk with us today. I wish you both the best, and can’t wait for the next volume . . . luckily there’s this site called Applegeeks.com that seems to have a lot of your work on it to tide me over. So that’s pretty cool. 😉

    Hawk: No. THANK YOU!

    Ananth: Haha, yup! Come visit us there and enjoy the comics, join our forum, drop us an e-mail, twitter at
    us . . . we’re around. 😉

    Thanks again to Hawk and Ananth for taking the time to speak with us. What do the rest of you think? Have you already taken the plunge into the Applegeeks’ universe? Or are the previews your first glimpse of this title? Are you secretly working for the squirrels? Let us know below!

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    Kurt Busiek: Marathon Man

    Trinity Comic BookWinner of multiple Harvey and Eisner awards, Kurt Busiek is one of the most prolific writers in comics. After making a big splash with Marvels, his limited series that deconstructed the history of Marvel’s superheroes from the perspective of the common man, Busiek has gone on to touch almost every corner of the Marvel and DC universes, as well as relaunch Dark Horse Comics’ Conan series.

    Now, of course, you know him for Trinity, DC’s ambitious weekly series that ends its year-long run May 27. I had the great good fortune to speak with Busiek at this year’s Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, and of course, old-school comics geek that I am, my first question references events that happened more than 20 years ago. Enjoy!

    TFAW.com: Thank you so much for meeting with me. So, you’re the guy who brought Jean Grey back to life!

    Kurt Busiek: Sort of! It was an odd and tortuous process. Before Jean Grey died, a couple of friends and I learned what was going to happen through the grapevine, and we didn’t like the idea at all. We were all fans of the original five X-Men. So we spent the evening coming up with ways to bring Jean back to life. We had also heard about Jim Shooter’s rule, which was that she couldn’t come back unless she was found not guilty of genocide, so we covered that, too.  We weren’t making any serious plans–we did this for fun and out of fannish indignation.

    A couple of years later, after I’d broken in, I attended my first convention as a pro, in Ithaca, New York, and I stayed at Roger Stern’s house. And we were talking about how much we liked the new X-Men, and he said, “It’s just a pity there’s no way to bring Jean Grey back,” and I said, “Sure there’s a way, there’s always a way.”

    Roger brought up Jim Shooter’s rule, and I said, “I know about the rule, and this is how I’d get around it,” and I told him the story I had come up with, and he said, “That’s really good, that’s quite clever. That would work, that would get around the rule.” So as far as I knew, that was the last of it. But sometime later, Roger was talking to John Byrne, and he said, “Oh by the way, a guy I know came up with a way to bring Jean Grey back.” And John said, “No, no, there isn’t any way.” And Roger outlined my idea, and John thought it was pretty good.

    So when X-Factor started, Bob Layton was planning on including the original four X-Men plus Dazzler. But then, John called up Bob Layton and said, “Hey Bob, do you want Jean back? Because I have a way!” And Bob said, “That sounds good!” And they pitched it to the editor, Jim Shooter, and it all got approved.  It was set up to be a crossover between the Avengers by Roger, the Fantastic Four by John, and X-Factor by Bob.

    At the time, I was working in the production department as the assistant editor of Marvel Age Magazine, and Bob Layton, who I’d never met before, comes up behind me and says, “I hear you’re the guy I have to thank for having Jean Grey back.” And I hadn’t talked about any of this for probably three years at this point, so my reaction was “Huh?” So Bob explained it to me.

    We arranged that I got a credit in the issue of the Fantastic Four where Jean Grey was brought back, and I got paid for the plot contribution. But the original stuff, my part of it, was just fannish conversation. So, I get the benefit of–hey, if you like the fact that Jean Grey came back, then it was my idea. If you don’t like the fact that Jean Grey came back, it wasn’t my fault. I’m in a win-win situation either way, because I didn’t pitch it, I didn’t approve it, I just talked about my ideas with friends. We didn’t have the Internet back then, but this is the sort of thing fans talk about on the Internet these days too.

    Continue reading

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    What Would Make a Superhero Irredeemable? An Interview With Mark Waid

    You’re about to hear Mark Waid’s name mentioned a lot out there in the comic book community in the next few months.

    He’s about to lend his talents to Amazing Spider-Man in May, and he’s also got a slew of other books that are coming out soon, including a new Incredibles comic book series and a couple of his own series–Irredeemable and The Unknown.

    What would happen if the world’s greatest hero decided to become the world’s greatest villain? That’s the premise behind Irredeemable, Waid’s new comic book series coming at you from Boom! Studios next month.

    TFAW.com was lucky enough to get an exclusive interview with the increasingly busy Waid about his upcoming series. Here’s how it went down:

    TFAW.com: This sounds like a really exciting project. What was the catalyst behind the idea of Irredeemable?

    Mark Waid: It’s been percolating for a while; there was no specific flashpoint for it other than, quite possibly, my admiration that The Sopranos managed to make an ongoing, charismatic, and sympathetic point-of-view protagonist out of a mob criminal.

    Some of it also came out of my years of thinking about Lex Luthor as someone who could have been a hero except for one internal flaw–his own insecurity. Those are the characters who are the most interesting–the flawed ones.

    TFAW.com: We’ve seen backstories on villains before, but how is this different from the standard villain origin story?

    Waid: Because the Plutonian was loved. Revered. Absolutely a saint, and absolutely the greatest hero the world had ever known. And it wasn’t a trick, wasn’t a guise. He was sincere. But things . . . got to him.

    TFAW.com: The subject matter seems pretty heavy. I mean, you’re taking a superhero and pushing him past his breaking point. It’s probably safe to say that this isn’t your standard cape book, right?

    Waid: I’d say that, definitely. Everyone in this book has very complex reasons for what he or she is doing, and none of them are wholly altrustic in a traditional comic-hero sense.

    TFAW.com: You’ve probably got dozens ideas in the back of your mind at any given moment. Why is this the time for you to tell this story?

    Waid: Honestly, on a personal level, I feel like I’m ready. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in the past few years about the difference between the rules comic-book superheroes teach you and the rules the real world demands of you–and how the lessons superheroes teach us at a fundamental age can so easily be warped and misinterpreted.

    TFAW.com: We’ve seen the first few pages of Irredeemable #1 and the world premier trailer on YouTube. They’re edgy and dark. How would you describe the look and feel of the book?

    Waid: It quite purposefully looks, at least on the surface, much like a traditional superhero book; that’s deliberate. But that’s because it’s the best way to disguise the darkness inside and surprise you.

    TFAW.com: What has Peter Krause brought to the table in terms of creating the world of Irredeemable?

    Waid: An immeasurable amount. While Paul Azaceta did the designs for the main character, the Plutonian, Peter’s been responsible for committing to paper the looks and designs of the dozen other supporting heroes and villains in this world. Plus, Peter’s dynamic storytelling and the great facial expressions in his art communicate so much.

    TFAW.com: Moving on to your other new title, The Unknown. What can you tell us about that?

    Waid: Catherine Allingham is the world’s greatest detective. Everyone knows it; she’s a legend, a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. But she’s been diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor.

    She’s got six months to live–and she’s decided that she will not go to her grave without first cracking the greatest mystery of all–what happens when we die. And she thinks she’s found an answer through detection, and that leads her and her assistant, the brawny expert-at-people-reading Doyle, into high-octane adventure.

    TFAW.com: A brain tumor? Harsh. Giving Catherine six months (and only four issues) to find out if death is the end . . . it sounds like quite the task.

    Waid: Well, there’s not much challenge in writing a detective story about a detective who ends up stumped, is there? What I like about this is that it gives us the chance to deal with much bigger issues than “who stole the Mona Lisa?” or “who’s the murderer, Prof. Plum or Col. Mustard?”

    I’m trying for pulp adventure with a horror bent–Doc Savage by way of David Lynch. And our artist, Minck Oosterveer, is astounding me. I hope he remembers me when he gives his Eisner Award-winner speech.

    TFAW.com: (I’ve been nodding my head the whole time.) Good stuff! I’m on board. I appreciate that you have a strong female lead. What would you say to a guy who thinks this is just a “girl’s book”?

    Waid: I’d say that, by that definition, Terminator 2 is a “girl’s movie.” Check out The Unknown. And don’t be threatened by a strong female lead!

    Thanks for your time Mark! We’re definitely looking forward to both of these new Boom! titles. In fact, we’re so excited that we’re going to randomly pick 20 people who pre-order Irredeemable #1 and we’ll send them a signed copy of the first issue, free of charge.

    Get your pre-orders in now folks, and don’t forget about our Irredeemable #1 First Look and The Unknown #1 First Look.

    What do you think of Irredeemable or The Unknown? Let us know below!

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    Through the Glass Darkly. An Interview With “Beyond Wonderland” Raven Gregory

    Nearly two years ago, Raven Gregory and Zenescope Entertainment grabbed us by our ocular nerves and bodily jerked us into their beautifully twisted re-imagining of Lewis Carroll’s world of Wonderland. With Return to Wonderland, we were introduced once again to Alice Liddle, who had grown up (and grown quite mad) since last we met her. But more intriguing still, we met her children–daughter Carroll (or Calie for short) and her troubled son Johnny. And it was through them, and their eyes, that we were to once again tour the world of Wonderland, a world grown far darker than we remembered.

    At the helm of this adventure was Raven Gregory, who was to reprise his role as writer for the 2008 followup, Beyond Wonderland, which comes to an action-packed conclusion this month. We recently had the opportunity to talk with Raven about Wonderland, the artistic process, and what lies ahead. So without further ado:

    NOTE: THIS INTERVIEW FEATURES MODERATE LANGUAGE AND SUBJECT MATTER

    TFAW.com: Hi Raven, thanks for taking some time to talk with us today.

    Raven Gregory: No problem. It’s cool to be here.

    TFAW.com: You have a diversified range of experience in comics, from The Gift, to Se7en, and your body of work with Zenescope Entertainment. Can you give us a sense of what you’re doing now?

    RG: Well, I do staff writing, talent relations, and editorial for Zenescope. I also handle all the Wonderland projects coming in and out of Zenescope, as well as write the main series. Other than that, I write, write, and then write a little bit more when I’m not spending time with the family.

    TFAW.com: With Return to Wonderland available as a trade for some time and the Beyond Wonderland TPB just over the horizon, the struggles of the Liddle family, Carroll (or Calie) in particular, have been diverse and twisted. For those readers who’ve not yet fallen through the looking glass, can you give a rough synopsis of where we find ourselves at the beginning of Beyond Wonderland?

    RG: Calie is attempting to start a new life, running away from her past as best as she can. Little does she know that something from the other side of the looking glass has found its way back to our world and is silently stalking her.

    TFAW.com: And there’s a whole new world of challenges for Calie in Beyond Wonderland?

    RG: Yeah, one of the biggest of which is how she relates to other people. How she maintains relationships when there’s this huge “thing” that hangs over her head every day of her life. A “thing” that’s really hard for her to talk about or share with other people, as they might, and probably would, think she was crazy. She’s at a point where even she is not entirely sure that what happened in RTW (Return to Wonderland) really happened. But events are fast moving to the place where even she cannot ignore the craziness that is again creeping back into her life, whether she wants it to or not.

    TFAW.com: I, and many others, have been drawn in and delighted by all the “Easter Eggs” hidden throughout the series to date (such as the Forest of Signs). Do these stem from conscious attempts at abstraction, foreshadowing of events yet to come, or some combination of both?

    RG: There’s a lot of all of the above. Some stuff I don’t even realize I do until after someone else points it out. The fact that CALIE is an anagram for ALICE was pointed out by our Editor-in-Chief, Ralph Tedesco. We were talking and he was saying how cool it was that her name could be rearranged to spell ALICE, and I was all like . . . “It does? . . . uh . . . I mean yeah, yeah, I meant to do that.” Then there’s other stuff like Watchmen shout outs (which I love) and Contra codes (up down up down left right left right) that I just throw in for shits and giggles, and it really does run straight across the board and all over the place.

    TFAW.com: Personal interest ((THERE BE SPOILERS HERE)). There’s a scene in Return to Wonderland where Johnny has dumped the body of his adulterous father’s lover into a hole in the basement. Besides her, you can see the corpse of Alice’s evil rabbit AND a fanged skull. I’ve got to know, what’s going on with that?

    RG: Some of the story I like to leave up to the reader’s interpretation to decide what they think is going on. I don’t want to always spell it out and would rather let the reader come up with their own ideas. But that one in particular was pretty simple, in the sense that there’s a live rabbit at the beginning of the RTW series, and shortly there after the rabbit is gone or zombified. So in reality, you might think that Johnny (being that serial killers usually start out with animals) killed the rabbit or you might think that the rabbit has been dead all along. It’s really up to the reader to decide . . . but everyone knows that there’s more to that rabbit than meets the eye.

    TFAW.com: Moving on, one element of the Wonderland series is the delicate balance between the erotic and the terrifying. As puppet master of this show, how do you view the relationship between these two elements and how they work together?

    RG: It’s a balancing act. Calie is me as a teenager. I don’t look at it as erotic. I look at it as when I was young, I was very comfortable with myself and my sexuality. I liked, and still do like, having sex. Why this isn’t portrayed in comics I get, but to me this is a part of the character’s makeup and I like to make my characters feel like real people. In Beyond Wonderland, there’s a scene where Calie is naked in the shower and her and her boyfriend have obviously just had sex, and I get all types of shit about showing her ass and what not. But everyone who “gets” it knows that in relationships there are times that people use sex as a bandage and a quick fix tool to get past problems. Brandon was about to leave her so she did what some people would do in a case like that. Not to mention she’s so emotionally drained and damaged at that point that she’d do just about anything to keep him from leaving, and all of a sudden it means something totally different than an erotic visage it’s portrayed to be. And sometimes I just like butts. 🙂

    TFAW.com: Have you ever had a scene you wanted to include, but that you thought was just too much? Or one that someone else balked at during the creative process?

    RG: Well, this one is a spoiler, so if you haven’t read the HC of RTW you shouldn’t read the rest of this. In the first issue of RTW there’s a dream sequence with Johnny and his family at the table that is quite bloody, with body parts chopped and all. Originally, there was supposed to be a male member on the table as well. Zenescope said it was too much. My argument was that Johnny was molested as a child, which led him to becoming the serial killer he eventually becomes, so it makes sense. They said no. Other than that, that is the only thing they censored me on. Everything else is in there, and after looking back on it, I agree with their choice. Sometimes we as writers can go too far because we can’t rein in our imaginations, and everything in Wonderland just looks so darn pretty we want to throw it all in.

    TFAW.com: So can you tell us anything else about the future of the Liddle family and Wonderland?

    RG: Beyond Wonderland #6. In stores in two weeks. Calie versus Johnny. And only one is getting out alive, and it’s not who you think. ‘Nuff said.

    TFAW.com: What else can we look forward to from you in the future?

    RG: We’re ramping up another Tales from Wonderland series featuring the Cheshire Cat, the Red Queen, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, and the Mad Hatter. Also look for another big announcement coming not long after the last issue of Beyond Wonderland hits the stands.

    TFAW.com: Sounds awesome, I’ll be keeping my ears open. We’re looking forward to the conclusion of Beyond Wonderland, wish you every success in the future, and appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today. Thanks Raven.

    RG: No, thank you.

    We really appreciate Raven taking the time to chat with us, and encourage you to step through the looking glass with the Wonderland series. Any fan of horror, action, and good old-fashioned storytelling is sure to be pleased. And once you’ve whet your whistle, you’ll find there are all manner of worlds of comic awesome to be found at Zenescope . . . and apparently something secret in the works that we’ll be sure to tell you about as soon as it’s announced!

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    Interview: Chad Helder Takes Us Into the Scissor Swarm

    There’s been a lot of attention on Bluewater Productions lately, due in no small part to their Female Force line of illustrated biographies, which focus on powerful women in politics. But a lesser known fact is that Bluewater is also the home to a resurgence of horror with their Vincent Price Presents line and Bartholomew of the Scissors–a disturbing tale of an undead boy named Bartholomew and his quest for revenge. TFAW.com recently had the opportunity to sit down with Chad Helder, writer of Bartholomew of the Scissors (as well as writer and script editor on Vincent Price Presents) to talk horror and delve into the darker side of Bluewater.

    TFAW.com: Chad, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

    Chad Helder: It’s great to have an opportunity to talk about my little undead friend, Bartholomew.

    TFAW.com: A little background for our readers: you’re not only the editor on several titles at Bluewater, you’re the writer on a few as well. Can you tell us a bit about juggling those two roles?

    CH: I’m a script editor and writer for Vincent Price Presents.  I have the great honor of being the “voice” of Vincent Price for the intro and outro segments that bookend each issue of the series.  In addition to writing those segments, I also write some of the stories.  In some cases, I work with writers on their scripts for the series, and I collaborate with publisher Darren Davis on which scripts we want to include in Vincent Price.  It has been an awesome journey so far.  The stories I’ve written for the series have involved cross-genre elements like pairing vampires and cyborgs.  I’ve also used lots of animal characters in strange horror settings (like Canus the cyborg dog in issue 4, and the anthropomorphized zombie skunks in issue 7).  A lot of the other one-shots in the series are more situated in the classic horror genre.  We have lots of exciting things coming up for this series.

    TFAW.com: Tell us a bit more about Bartholomew of the Scissors, and Vincent Price Presents.

    CH: Bartholomew of the Scissors has been a real journey for me.  I first conceived of the idea for Bartholomew’s Scissor Swarm way back in 2001, and since then I’ve written a couple drafts of the novel version.  Over various revisions of the novel, I put a lot of work into developing the world that Bartholomew occupies, including various monsters and creatures from another dimension.  Bartholomew himself went from being like a poltergeist to being an undead being more akin to a vampire with off-the-chart psychic abilities that manifest as his Scissor Swarm.  When I met publisher Darren Davis (I asked him to be a guest speaker in my English 101 class when my students were writing an essay about comic book heroes), it suddenly occurred to me that Bartholomew was really a very visual tale that would work perfectly in a comic-book format.  The story really fell together when I wrote the script.  After I wrote the script, Darren found Daniel Crosier, who immediately understood the vision of Bartholomew.  He used this really innovative artistic technique of burning the illustrations into pine planks, and then augmenting the pictures with paint and pencils.  The creepiness of Daniel’s amazing faces and the dynamic energy of his illustrations really bring a lot to the story.  The characters really came alive for me through Daniel’s work.  Also, the effect of the wood-burned art really creates a creepy story world for Bartholomew to occupy, and it is so perfect because there is a lot of fire in the story, so burned images are a perfect way to tell this story.  Bartholomew is all about fire, scissors, and milky-white blobs.  Those three elements are always at odds with each other in the story.  You can even see the lines of the wood (and sometimes knots) in the panels.  It has an awesome effect.

    For me, Vincent Price Presents is about telling imaginative new horror tales with Vincent Price as the muse and host.  I am really inspired by the work of Tim Burton, who also used Vincent Price as a kind of muse.  I really admire an artist like Burton who can create his own vision while still drawing on the elements of a genre, and that is what I have tried to do with my strange stories that draw from Price’s tradition and Poe’s tradition too (the two are inextricable in my mind).

    TFAW.com: What do you see as the role of horror in the comic format? Do you think there’s still room for it on the illustrated page with television, movies, and even video games vying for the same fan base’s attention?

    CH: I see comic books as bridging all of those other mediums.  I think graphic storytelling is the ultimate, prototypical story medium.  Comic books provide a kind of template or storyboard that other storytellers like filmmakers can follow.  I think that is why comic books are so adaptable into film and video games because they provide a powerful visual story, which is the foundation for those other mediums.  I think horror stories will always be popular in the world of comic books because of the subjective emotion expressed through the art and the beauty of monsters.  Horror fiction requires a different type of artistic flourish through psychological suspense (think of the amazingly rich, textured worlds that Poe created, for example), but in the comic-book format, artists have such a wonderful opportunity to create these surreal, nightmarish landscapes populated by the most beautiful and grotesque monsters, and I can’t think of a better place for a monster to be exhibited than in a comic book.  In a movie, they almost always look fake (especially digital monsters), and in fiction they are only in the reader’s imagination, but a monster can really live in a comic book.

    TFAW.com: Bartholomew of the Scissors, in particular, is a dark tale with many interlocking (and disturbing) themes. Can you share a bit of the inspiration behind this story?

    CH: It all began when I was walking through the forest one day in the Pacific Northwest and I had a vision (in my mind’s eye) of shiny stainless steel scissors floating out of the forest and catching the sunlight.  It was a weird and disturbing image.  And then I imagined what would happen in the scissors attacked, sort of like the seagulls in Hitchcock’s Birds.  That was the beginning.  Then, I needed to find a psychological motivation for this Scissor Swarm, and that was when I attached it to the murdered boy, Bartholomew.  In my writing over the years, I created several characters that were like a Peter Pan vampire, but I never could get it quite right.  Bartholomew, like Peter Pan, has the never-grow-old syndrome and something much darker because he is the victim of a murder.  One of my favorite fairy tales is Hansel and Gretel, and this Peter Pan vampire became sort of like Hansel and Gretel in one, both the helpless boy who is kept in the cage and the clever girl who outwits the witch.  Along with that theme of Hansel and Gretel in one, I made Bartholomew an adolescent who is uncertain about his gender identity.  I would say he is questioning his identity when he is captured by the witch.  In this case, the witch is Dr. Karen, who takes photographs of Bartholomew and spreads them across the Internet.  The witch in the original fairy tale is a cannibal; Dr. Karen’s way of “eating” Bartholomew is to take these photographs. Bartholomew is a victim of exploitation and murder, and that is the source of his vengeful fury that he unleashes upon the world in the form of the Scissor Swarm.

    I am also a huge fan of Moby Dick, and the White Blob is my homage to Moby Dick, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the Steve McQueen Blob all mixed into one.  The story also follows a kind of X-Files story-line with my version of a film noir paranormal detective, Gordon Watt, who has white hair because he has seen so many terrifying things.

    TFAW.com: Amongst the many striking elements of the tale, the unique approach to the art (and the wood-grain background) leaps out from the start. How did the team at Bluewater come to such a bold design decision?

    CH: The wood-burned art is the vision of Daniel Crosier.  When I first heard about his technique, I didn’t understand at all.  I loved his initial character designs of Bartholomew, but I didn’t understand how his pencils would be translated to blocks of wood.  And then when I saw Bartholomew and the Scissor Swarm as they appear in the initial pages of the comic, I “got” it.  It totally blew my mind.  People often think that we’re talking about some kind of wood-block printing.  This is something much weirder and more wonderful.

    TFAW.com: What can you tell us about the enmity between the Spectral Phantasms and the White Blob? What is the foundation of this conflict?

    CH: These two monsters represent two completely different biological imperatives.  The spectral phantasms are all about a symbiotic relationship between human hosts and phantasms.  They need the life inside human blood to survive in our dimension, and in return they provide spectacular paranormal abilities to the host.  The White Blob, however, is all about assimilation (the Borg is also a major influence here).  The minions of the Blob blindly serve their master.  There is very little of the original person left.  If there is a specific allegory at work here, it is largely unconscious on my part.

    TFAWcom: With the Bartholomew of the Scissors TPB coming out March 25th, what can we look forward to? Both in terms of Bartholomew and from Bluewater in general?

    CH: I have lots of visions of Bartholomew and his friends on the big screen.  I’m hoping that dream will soon materialize.  I’m very excited about the upcoming issues of Vincent Price Presents.  The lineup is getting better all the time.  Bluewater in general is exploding.  They are on the rise.  I’m convinced Bluewater is going to be a major player in the future of the comic book industry.

    TFAW.com: Any last bits of information, or teasers to share with our readers?

    CH: I’m really excited about some of the upcoming issues of Vincent Price Presents.  The art is finished on “Rue Morgue High,” which features a psychotic high school student named Edwin who is obsessed with Murders in the Rue Morgue by Poe, and Edwin has a horrible gift for mind control.  If you like Poe’s story, you’ll get a kick out of this modern-day homage to Poe.  Not to spoil the story, but the orangutan with the straight razor is back!  Another story, “Hamster Stratagem” is being colored, and I love the art.  The main characters in this story are a trio of hamsters in a cage, and they are being terrorized by a teenager who worships the mirror witch, Bloody Mary, and Mary wants a blood sacrifice.  The climax of this twisted story centers around a hamster ball and a microwave oven!

    TFAW.com: We wish you every success with Bartholomew of the Scissors and your future projects. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

    CH: It’s been a pleasure to tell you about my stories, which are a major labor of love.  Thanks Andrew and thanks TFAW.com!  You guys are awesome.

    We really appreciate Chad taking the time to sit down and talk with us. And we’d love to know what you think about Bartholomew of the Scissors, or any of Bluewater’s other titles. Cheers!

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  • , ,

    Running With the Black Dog Clan – An Interview with Malcolm Wong, Creator of the New Comic – Dog Eaters

    Dog Eaters?

    Don’t be ashamed if you haven’t heard of this exciting new freshman work just yet, as Issue 1 just hit stands last Wednesday, but let me help remedy that oversight with a quick synopsis of the setting. Dog Eaters takes place in the future 175 years after the Die Off, a global extinction of 90% of the world’s population. The remaining survivors live a nomadic and violent existence, with only a few scattered casino cities serving as reminders of civilization. One such group of survivors is the Black Dog Clan (the tale’s protagonists), who are looking to leave behind their nomadic lifestyle and found their own casino city.

    In Issue 1, we join the Black Dog Clan as it is making its way through perilous territory–and the action comes fast and furious early on. I was impressed by the art, which is a hybrid of manga and comic styles, and found the story exciting and full of promise. So when I got the opportunity to ask a few questions of Malcolm Wong, the creator and writer of Dog Eaters, I couldn’t pass it up.

    Read on for some great insights into his new world! And if you haven’t already, check out the free preview of Issue 1, here. It’s a great opportunity to explore the world of the Black Dog Clan, albeit in black and white. But not to worry, the first issue is in glorious color and a gripping read from cover to cover. Recommended.

    I’d like to thank Malcolm for taking a moment to talk with us, and share his insights into this world. So without further ado…

    Disclaimer: The following opinions are solely those of the respective individuals and do not represent the opinions of Things From Another World, or any of its related entities

    Andrew(AM): Dog Eaters is set in in a post-apocalyptic world, 175 years after the Die Off–a self perpetuated extinction of 90% of the world’s population. I was immediately struck by the conclusions you had drawn about who would survive such a catastrophe and the ‘tribes’ they would subsequently create. Can you tell us a little more about the path of thought you followed to reach these conclusions?

    Malcolm Wong(MW): The type of people that will survive the Die Off (I think it’s going to happen for real, sadly) have to be tough — with survival instincts honed over many generations.  I’m living in Tokyo now and almost all the people I see on the streets have a penchant for wandering aimlessly in traffic while texting on their cellphones, listening to music on iPods — completely oblivious to their surroundings.  I call them, “The Walking Dead.”  I’m not talking about zombies but they sort of remind me of them…

    On the other hand, the people that populate the world of DOG EATERS can predict the weather with a sniff of the air, repair old recycled machinery, and live off the land.  They are not afraid to make hard choices and sacrifices.  The members of the Black Dog Clan are partly descended from Native American stock.  The Roaches are descended from inmates of well-shielded, high-security prisons who have interbred offspring of ferocious criminality.  There are many top-secret military bases in the U.S. Southwest.  The survivors of these types of people with military, engineering, and scientific training went to both the good and bad side.  There is a fluid social spectrum in this world.  Wanderers can be accepted into a clan if they have skills to offer.  Clan members can be exiled and left to die, go Roach, or start their own clan if they have the necessary charisma and resources.  Women marry into clans or live in the casino-cities.

    AM: And what then, was the impetus for concluding that civilization would cluster around casino cities? Were you consciously making a statement about fate and its relationship to these survivors via metaphor, or was it more of a “That would be an awesome location for….” sort of development?

    MW: I tried to create a consistent logical reality within this world and I asked myself questions like, “Where would people naturally gravitate to (re)create trade centers?”  There are already well-established casino-cities in the US Southwest and outside of the establishments in Nevada, they are owned by Native Americans.  These places combine business and pleasure, where people might have a natural tendency to congregate.

    AM: I felt that in the preview there were some strong thematic elements suggesting that you’ve crafted a ‘New Wild West’, as evidenced by the armament, clothing, and even the Native American origins of some of your characters. Was this intentional from the beginning, or something that came to into existence as part of the creative process?

    MW: The setting informed the people’s racial origins while the ideas for clothing were sourced from native design motifs from both North and South America.  Guillermo A. Angel, a Chilean, is the artist for this mini-series, and he’s able to view this from a South American perspective.  He had a lot of input in the look – after all, he is drawing it!  I gave him the initial direction and concepts and provided photo references, then it was just a matter of refining and approving the visuals that came out.

    AM: After reading the character biographies, it’s clear that we’re in for some dramatic character and plot developments. I can’t help but think that six issues isn’t going to be enough! This may be a little early to be asking, but do you already have ideas tossing around in your brain for where the story goes after this initial arc?

    MW: I do have another story arc in mind with additional characters and locations. DOG EATERS has been complete for about two years now, which has been long enough for ideas to come percolating up out of my subconscious. If — and that’s a big if — I’m fortunate enough to sell the movie rights, my manager told me that I may lose the right to write a sequel, depending on the contract.  On the other hand, if I complete a sequel and publish it as a comic/graphic novel, maybe it might be considered a separate property.

    AM: We (the readers) are just about to get our first taste of the post Die Off world, but you’ve been living in it for years and have a far greater intimacy with it than we at this point. Are there any particular elements, such as specific characters, locations, etc. – which you’ve come to be particularly fond of?

    MW:
    I think most writers love all of their characters — be they heroes or villains —  at least I do! But I do feel an especially strong connection with the male characters Bevan, Stevie, Tommy, and Lamont. An interesting thing happened when the female characters I created, who previously existed as mere words, became manifested as images.  After seeing how Guillermo rendered the young women in this story, I started to feel a little differently about them!  Schwing!

    AM: I really enjoy the attention to detail given to the character design in regards to their occupations and habitat. For example, the attire of the Black Dog Clan seem to be a mix of tribal dress and gang garb reminiscent of The Warriors, whereas Bronco is attired in more of an Old West Villain and Dolemite hybrid style (Readers, note the Bling Bling written in the captions of the Bronco character study). I’m wondering how much of the final look and feel of these characters was set in stone from the beginning, and how much room to run wild did Guillermo A. Angel have in the designs?

    MW: Character, and I guess you would call it production design, was collaborative.  I provided the script, of course, and a description of the characters and locations both in text and photo references.  Guillermo did sketches and again we went through a tag team process until we got what we wanted.  Guillermo has really given this project his all for the past year.  He’s just a great artist and wonderful to work with.

    AM: Shifting gears, Dog Eaters began its journey as a screenplay, and you’ve publicly spoken about your desire to see it made into a movie. Taking considerations like budget, availability, etc. out of the picture, have you thought of anyone as being particularly well suited to fill a given role? In particular I’m curious as to who you think might make an ideal Lamont or Tommy?

    MW: If it were up to me, I would like to see someone like Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Craig, Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman play Lamont.  Maybe Brad Pitt or Val Kilmer.  Clive Owen.  Any of these actors would be great.  Will Smith or Denzel Washington might be interesting as well – take it in a more ethnic direction.  Lamont is a man’s man and they could all slide into that role with gusto, I’m sure!

    The actor that plays Tommy would have to be able to combine the attitude of Sid Vicious with the hand-eye coordination and competitiveness of Kobe Bryant.  I think there are a number of young male actors that have the right look, but it would take a special talent to combine that with the attitude and grace of movement that Tommy has.

    But film is a director’s medium and my choice for director – if I had one — would be Ridley Scott, Ang Lee, or Curtis Hanson.  Coming at it from a completely different direction (all action, all the time), maybe Michael Bay might be interesting…

    AM: We really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, particularly given how busy you must be with Dog Eaters #1 about to hit the stands. Any last thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?

    MW: There is still a lot of work ahead even though the story is locked-in.  We’ve been grinding away at the art with the deadlines for each issue getting closer and tighter.  Keeping the creative team motivated and happy is a priority for me over the next several months.  While seeing this story through to completion is reward enough for me, I must also build the readership for DOG EATERS, the mini-series to give myself the opportunity to take this to the next level.  I hope that it will be a case of, “Print it and they will come (to read it),” but we’ll have to see.  Putting DOG EATERS out into the public and presenting it in a way that people notice and like it is one of the more intriguing and challenging aspects of this journey.

    AM: Thank you for making a few minutes for us Malcolm. I wish you and the Black Dog Clan the best of fortune in your adventure.

    MW: You’re welcome, Andrew!

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