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    Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal Tell Us About Echoes

    Echoes Top CowWe’re bringing Top Cow Month to a close with an interview with the creators of the creepy, totally addictive series Echoes: writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Rahsan Ekedal.

    In Echoes, Brian Cohn is an ordinary middle-aged guy expecting a child with his wife. He’s also a diagnosed schizophrenic–just like his father, who might be a serial killer who has killed countless little girls and made tiny dolls from them. When another girl disappears, Brian has to wonder–is schizophrenia the only thing he inherited from his father?

    Echoes #5 comes out today and I cannot wait to get my hands on it. Read up on the series below and then order yours now, but be warned: this is a disturbing tale that is not for the faint of heart.

    TFAW.com: Echoes is like something out of a nightmare. Joshua, where did the idea for this come from?

    Joshua Hale Fialkov: It came almost directly out of my own fears. My wife and I had decided to have a baby, and I was instantly struck by how my relationship with my own father had shaped and molded me into who I was today. All of my flaws and strengths came from the way my parents raised me from an extremely early age. So, of course, I start panicking about what that means for me and my kid, and then, y’know, the mind drifts . . .

    TFAW.com: The protagonist, Brian Cohn, is a schizophrenic who occasionally delays his meds, which makes him an extremely unreliable narrator. Will we ever know the “real” story?

    JHF: I mean, for me, I know exactly what happens and exactly what the ending of the series means. I’ve been somewhat amazed that so many people who’ve read it have taken it in so many different ways. It’s actually pretty rewarding to have people actively debating and thinking about the book so long after they’ve read it. A lot of the thanks for that goes to Rahsan, who added just the right touch of ambiguity to the final art.

    Echoes Top CowRahsan Ekedal: The line between reality and Brian’s illusions is very hard for the reader to distinguish, and that’s exactly how Josh and I wanted it, so there’s no separation in the art, no clear difference between hallucination and reality. There’s a total immersion into Brian’s world that, I think, has caused a lot of people to become invested in figuring out what’s “real” and what’s not. I just can’t wait to see where that debate goes when everyone reads the finale in issue #5. Even though Josh and I are certain of its meaning, I’m really curious to find out what other people get from it.

    TFAW.com: What was his relationship like with his father?

    JHF: I think bad is probably an understatement. It’s never explicitly said in the comic, but, at some point, Brian’s mom just couldn’t take it anymore and abandoned him with his dad, which his dad really blamed on Brian, rather than his own illness and short comings, and that resentment just kept on coming up. I think once Brian was old enough, he probably left home and kept as far away as he could, while still trying to prove himself capable to his dad.

    TFAW.com: If you read Echoes, his father never actually claims to be a serial killer, but Brian leaps to that conclusion immediately–admittedly, after finding some pretty damning evidence. Why?

    JHF: I’d say it’s the evidence, I mean, it’s just all right there, and there’s not a lot of other paths to go down. If his dad knew about the room, then his dad must be connected to the room. We also see some of his rationale in the flashback at the beginning of issue #4, where he’s remembering this strange, almost dirty moment with his dad, that, in retrospect seems so much more sinister knowing what he knows now.

    RE: And the thought becomes an obsession. Once the question is there, it becomes inescapable. We’ve all had a thought or fear that we just can’t get out of our head. And it’s even worse for someone with Brian’s condition.

    TFAW.com: Rahsan, what did you think about this story when you first heard about it?

    Echoes Top CowRE: The great thing about Echoes from the start was the push and pull between simplicity and complexity. You can describe the plot in one sentence, but at the same time, Brian’s story is incredibly rich thematically, and deals with very complex issues. That’s the recipe for a great story, in my mind. And the opportunity to draw a story that deals seriously with mental health was a big incentive for me to come on board for this book–it’s one of those things that doesn’t get talked about enough in our society. Plus, it’s Josh Fialkov–I would have said yes to working with him again even if the story was about cuddly bunnies. Which, by the way–spoiler alert–is what our next project is all about.

    TFAW.com: Your style is pretty realistic, which makes it even harder to distinguish reality from fantasy. How did you approach this story?

    RE: Reality, immersion, darkness. Those were the keywords for me. It was really important to us both that Brian feel like a real person. At an early design stage, I had Brian as more of a handsome hero type, but it didn’t quite feel right. That guy wasn’t Brian. And then Josh was like, “Make him fatter. Make him less attractive.” I went back to the drawing board, and suddenly Brian was staring me in the face. That was an important moment in the course of the book, I think, and a great example of our collaborative process.

    Another important moment was the decision to print the book in black and white. It was honestly exciting, because normally in comics I’m working with a colorist. That has it’s own rewards, of course, but the bottom line is that what I draw isn’t exactly what the reader sees– the colorist is really creating the “finished” image. With Echoes, I had utter control over the relationship between my brush and the reader’s eyes. So I became totally obsessed with creating this immersive world of creeping shadows. The texture of the shadows is a character–I wanted the darkness in Echoes to feel alive, a representation of Brian’s mind.

    TFAW.com: Rahsan, I’ve loved your work in The Cleaners and Creepy. It seems like your style took a definite shift between the two. Do you agree, and if so, what spurred the change?

    Echoes Top CowRE: Part of it was just my learning process–I went to art school for five years, but nothing teaches you as much or as fast as actually working on a monthly schedule. But I also give a lot of credit to my editor (on both of the books you mentioned), Shawna Gore. She had her eye on me when I was still in school, and has consistently given me the right guidance at the right time, especially in that key moment between finishing The Cleaners and drawing my first Creepy short, when my process needed shaking up. We had a long talk at New York Comic Con that year, and it propelled me to changed up my style. Echoes has been the full expression of that effort, thanks to Filip Sablik and Top Cow letting me cut loose. But now I’m searching for new ways to improve. It’s a constant process. I’m never satisfied with my pages!

    TFAW.com: Joshua and Rahsan, you worked together on The Cleaners. How has your working relationship evolved over the years?

    JHF: Last time around, Rah and I didn’t really get to work together, as I had a co-writer who did most of the heavy lifting. But, we were like two little dogs separated by plexiglass at the pet store, so desperate to frolic together, that it was only a matter of time.

    RE: We’ve worked together on a few things now, and I think we’ve developed a great creative short hand–Josh writes for me, and I draw for him, you know? It’s very rewarding when both creators are sort of anticipating the other. It works. And we frolic. Ah, the frolic-ing.

    TFAW.com: What keeps bringing you two back together?

    JHF: So much of our influences are in lock step. The old Warren horror magazines from the ’60s and ’70s, that Bernie Wrightson-style horror stuff, and I think we both circle the same films and television as well. Having someone who understands your references is such a huge help in the process. Plus, I think we make beautiful music together, so to speak.

    Echoes Top CowRE: Also, we both take the craft very seriously, so that brings us together. Josh is all about creating that perfect panel, perfect single page, perfect 22-page experience. His scripts show that care, and that’s exactly in line with my visual ambitions, as well. So, it’s creatively rewarding to work together.

    TFAW.com: How did you get involved with Top Cow?

    JHF: I’d been working with Top Cow off and on for nearly five years now. Maybe more, actually! When I came up with Echoes, I was coming off the success we had with Alibi and it’s movie deal, so it just felt natural to offer them up what was next.

    TFAW.com: While The Cleaners was more of a CSI-style horror story, Echoes is definitely more dreamlike and visceral. Which type of stories do you two prefer?

    JHF: I think Echoes is definitely more in my wheel house. I love being able to tell grounded stories about characters that you love, even though you should, by all rights, be disgusted by them. Finding a way to make someone relatable and a hero when their actions clearly state the opposite is just a complete blast for me.

    RE: I love a challenge, so working in many different genres and tones is great. I couldn’t choose just one.

    TFAW.com: Will there be any more to the story after issue #5? Is there any room for a sequel?

    JHF: I have a sequel in mind, and have had from the very beginning. So while Brian’s story is very much complete, for me, I have a lot of nasty things left to do to the people around him.

    RE: The Empire Echoes Back!

    TFAW.com: What types of comics would you two like to tackle next?

    JHF: We’ve talked a bit, and I know my heart drifts towards doing something slightly less macabre, but still in the horror genre. Once Rahsan gets a break from being a goddamn superstar over at Dark Horse, we’re gonna sit down and figure something out.

    RE: We’ll let you guess at what “slightly less macabre” might mean. We’re going to do something awesome, promise.

    TFAW.com: What comics are you reading right now?

    JHF: I’m absolutely in love with Scott Snyder’s run on Detective Comics. That guy is a genius. I’m also a big fan of the work Cullen Bunn is doing over on The Sixth Gun, Jeff Lemire on Sweet Tooth, and the Image book Li’l Depressed Boy is simply amazing.

    RE: I have to give a bump to Jason McNamara’s The Martian Confederacy: From Mars With Love, with art by Paige Braddock. It’s out this month, I believe, and it’s a great, fun little book with a really twisted sense of humor.

    TFAW.com: Do you have anything coming up you’d like to talk about?

    JHF: Sure, I’m writing a three issue arc of Superman/Batman for DC, that’s in previews right now. I’ve also got some original comics debuting over at geek.mtv.com later this year, and a couple of books that’ll be announced this summer.

    RE: Right now I’m drawing the fourth issue of Solomon Kane: Red Shadows for Dark Horse, written by Bruce Jones. Issue #1 is in stores right now. And we may be doing more Kane after that–should be some announcements soon. So, if you’re a Robert Howard fan, stay tuned for that. There’s other stuff, but nothing I can talk about yet. Follow us both on Twitter! We’re lively. That’s one word for it.

    Thank you, Joshua and Rahsan, for answering all of our questions. Now get to work on something new for us to read! In the meantime, catch up on Echoes here.

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    TFAW Interviews Witchblade Artist Stjepan Sejic

    Witchblade ComicsTop Cow Month is going strong and we continue to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Witchblade with an interview with longtime artist Stjepan Sejic. He tells us what it’s like to be an artist for American comics while living in Croatia, the highlights of drawing Witchblade, and what he’d like to do next!

    Plus, Top Cow was nice to enough to give us an exclusive preview of Witchblade #144, so you can see Sejic’s artwork for yourself.

    Want to win a Witchblade or Artifacts variant signed by writer Ron Marz? Remember to enter our Witchblade/Artifacts Contest by May 11, 2011!

    TFAW.com: So, I’ve read that with issue #150, you’ll have drawn more issues of Witchblade than any other artist. Will you continue with the title past #150, or is that it for you?

    Stjepan Sejic: There are several options being discussed between Top Cow and myself. Being a Top Cow guy through and through, I will be staying with the company, which means having fun with their properties. Of course, there is the fact that Ron Marz knows what I like, so there is a great amount of well-oiled-machine-type of cooperation between the two of us. If it seems like I am avoiding directly answering the question . . . then the impression is a correct one. There is a good reason for that. Now, I will be tackling Witchblade again, but there are some other fun options presenting themselves at the Top Cow headquarters.

    TFAW.com: What have been your favorite moments and characters to draw thus far?

    Witchblade #144 Preview Page 1SS: Those who know me know my love for epic, iconic character moments. Glorious moments in which a hero is displayed for what he or she is, bigger than life, kicking asses and taking names.

    Ron was kind enough to provide me with many such lovely moments, but as far as my favorite ones go, strangely enough it would have to be the scenes from Angelus. Somehow that miniseries really worked, with enough touching moments, moments of personal development, and balls-to-the-wall action.

    Now don’t get me wrong, Witchblade had its great moments too, but the problem there is that there is a much greater cast of characters. This results in a lot of my focus being directed to handling the character moments, because those are essentially the hardest to do right. Flashy action stuff is easy.

    Still, to count a few examples of the fun stuff, I would have to say the entire issue #138, for its epic fantasy feel.

    TFAW.com: Is there anything about the book you’re tired of drawing?

    SS: Not really. It’s not really the content but the environment that can bum me out. In my approach, environment dictates the use of light and its coloration, which plays an important role in the way I build a scene. An empty-walled room is far less interesting than a ruined old building.

    TFAW.com: How did you get interested in comics?

    Witchblade #144 Preview Page 2SS: I was sixteen when an exhibition called Comic Biennale came to a museum in the city of Rijeka, where I went to high school. We went there to check it out, and there I got the idea to try drawing comics. That exhibition shaped my life in more ways than one, for it was there that I saw a cover to a comic with a peculiarly memorable title, Witchblade.

    A few years later, when I was in my first year of college, I went to the Internet. At that time I had no computer myself, so it was great news to me. After an hour of Googling random stuff, I remembered the word that kind of stuck with me. I Googled “Witchblade” and that got me started. From there on I was on a very unlikely path to becoming a comic book artist in America. I was mocked by my peers and teachers for my perseverance. They figured the chance for my success was slightly below zero.

    Still, life is a curious thing: sometimes cards will just add up, a dice will roll a perfect number, and I ended up working on the comic that got me started doodling comic characters. The real kicker is that I read my first issue of Witchblade in the third year of college.

    TFAW.com: Who were your artistic influences?

    SS: I started off as a strange mix of European comic influences and Michael Turner and Marc Silvestri. It was a little later that I discovered the gorgeous works of Alex Ross. In the end, I found my balance by developing a style of my own that has some of the stylishness of the Top Cow greats, a love for realism inspired by Alex Ross, and a bit of a flair I inevitably picked up from the digital masters of concept art.

    Witchblade #144 Preview Page 3My sense of design is under heavy influence by cinematic effect masters such as Stan Winston and Rick Baker. There is some Turner/Silvestri added to the mix, and just a dash of manga influence.

    TFAW.com: You’ve created so many different versions of the Witchblade “armor” over the years–including the “light” Dani look and the “dark” Sara look when they shared the Witchblade. How do you decide each look?

    SS: Well that was really no challenge. There are designs that require a lot of work and development, but these are organic, as is the Witchblade itself.

    Both light and dark armor had the quality of the full armor, but dark needed a more aggressive look, so often it had a fiery kind of a glow from within. With Dani I always tried to pull off a Valkyrie look, and this was in the end fully realized in her Angelus armor.

    TFAW.com: On a related note, you used to have two Witchblades to draw–Dani and Sara. Do you miss drawing Dani?

    SS: The real kicker about this is the fact that I did not like Dani as a character while she had the Witchblade. The reason for that was the fact that she rarely dealt with her own problems. She was a mule carrying Sara’s problems around. It was only when she left Witchblade, and became the Angelus, that she became a fully realized character in my eyes–dealing with her own mess and having my favorite sidekick/girlfriend ever. What can I say, Finch is awesome.

    Witchblade #144 Preview Page 4TFAW.com: What comics are you reading right now?

    SS: None . . . the reason for that is simple. Living in Croatia makes the availability of comics very limited. So essentially it comes down to stocking up at conventions and going on a lovely reading spree.

    Usually I read the independent titles and Image stuff. I was never big on superheroes. Not for my lack of trying, but I just could not jump in anywhere. For crying out loud, even an event trade paperback in those comics leaves plot threads on the douchiest note ever: “To find out what happens with this character, read this series from issue this to that.”

    The sad thing is I want to read Thor, Batman, and Green Lantern, but these comics are so hermetically sealed, no fans enter, and no fans leave. So I stick to limited stuff.

    TFAW.com: What other types of projects would you like to tackle in the future?

    SS: There is a small number of titles I’d like to work on for a story arc or a mini. Stuff like The Darkness, Conan, Hellboy, and Aphrodite 9 comes to mind for the fun environments.

    Still my true love is the pure fantasy genre. I would be severely tempted to draw a Lord of the Rings adaptation, but problem is I already have my own project, Ravine, to release my fantasy-themed frustrations. So essentially, I’m satisfied as I am now.

    Witchblade #144 Preview Page 5Thanks Stjepan, for taking some time from the drawing board to answer our questions. Next week, we say farewell to Top Cow Month with an interview with Echoes creators Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal! Plus, remember to enter our Witchblade/Artifacts Contest to win variants of Witchblade and Artifacts signed by Ron Marz.

    BROWSE WITCHBLADE COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS NOW

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    Are you a longtime Witchblade fan, or are you new to the series? What do you think should happen next? Post your comments below!

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    Ron Marz on the Life of Sara Pezzini: Cop, Mother, Witchblade!

    Witchblade #144Top Cow Month isn’t just full of awesome interviews, previews, and contests: it also marks the 15th anniversary of the publisher’s most popular series, Witchblade!

    In honor of this occasion, we’ve got another spectacular interview with writer Ron Marz below, plus an amazing Witchblade/Artifacts Contest for you to enter! Plus, stay tuned to our interview with artist Stjepan Sejic on Friday, April 22, in which we’ll debut an exclusive sneak peek at Witchblade #144!

    TFAW.com: You’ve been writing Witchblade since issue #80–almost half her run. What are some of the most memorable story arcs you’ve written?

    Ron Marz: The “First Born” storyline comes to mind initially because having a lead character have a baby obviously changes the dynamic of the series as a whole. I’m also really fond of what we did in issue #92, which finally explained the origin of the Witchblade itself. We’ve been able to mine a lot of story material from that.

    TFAW.com: How has Sara Pezzini evolved over the years?

    Witchblade #144RM: Hopefully Sara has become a more well-rounded character . . . no pun intended. My goal has always been to make sure that Sara was just as interesting and real without the Witchblade as she is with it. So I’ve tried to flesh out her character as much as possible, as a cop, as a mother, as the wielder of the Witchblade.

    TFAW.com: Right now, she’s dealing with the death of her sister and the kidnapping of her child, Hope. How is she going to move forward after this?

    RM: I suppose a lot of that depends on whether she ever gets her daughter back. That’s obviously the kind of thing that could break a person, and I want to make sure we’re dealing with the kidnapping and with Julie’s death as realistically as possible. Sara’s going to have a rough time of it over the next year.

    TFAW.com: One major factor in Sara’s history is her complicated romantic attachments. Can you describe the nature of her relationship with Detective Patrick Gleason?

    RM: Gleason’s her boyfriend, really kind of the first time in the series that Sara has had a steady relationship with anyone. But some of what goes on between Sara and Jackie Estacado in Artifacts is going to complicate that quite a bit.

    TFAW.com: Patrick is generally categorized as the “nice” guy many women take for granted. Can you expand on that? Is that likely to change in the near future?

    Witchblade #142RM: One of the reasons we made issues #142 and #143 a Gleason solo story is that I wanted to expand his character a bit and give him a chance to step into the spotlight. Certainly Sara is the lead character in the book and Gleason is by definition a supporting character, so he tends not to get as much screen time. I think those issues will give him a little more of an edge in readers’ minds.

    TFAW.com: Sara is also attracted to Jackie Estacado, the mob boss who is the host of The Darkness–and also the father of Sara’s daughter, Hope. Will Jackie and Sara ever come closer to an actual romantic relationship?

    RM: I think their relationship is the definition of “complicated.” She’s a police detective, he’s a former mob hitman and unrepentant killer, despite having his own personal code of honor. Jackie and Sara certainly aren’t “good” for each other, but sometimes we’re most attracted to that which isn’t good for us. Stay tuned.

    TFAW.com: Speaking of Hope, she was actually conceived while Sara was unconscious and Jackie was under the influence of The Darkness. What made you decide to take that route?

    RM: A big part of it was that I wanted there to be a mystery to who the father was, even to Sara. It was a situation in which they were both used by the personification of The Darkness. It’s something that really wouldn’t have happened if either of them had been aware of it. Although now that they have this child together, there’s a tie that’s always going to bind them.

    Witchblade #147TFAW.com: How will Patrick deal with Jackie having a permanent tie to Sara?

    RM: We’ve already seen that it’s not a pleasant relationship between those two. They don’t like each other, however, there’s a certain respect for each other. But if Gleason and Jackie both end up wanting the same thing, there’s going to be an inevitable clash.

    TFAW.com: How will Artifacts affect both the Witchblade and Angelus titles?

    RM: Angelus was a limited series, though I certainly wouldn’t mind doing more with the character if there’s an opportunity. Moving forward, the Witchblade title is going to reflect the changes that take place due to Artifacts . . . but you’ll have to wait until Artifacts is over to find out just what those changes are.

    Our thanks go out to Ron for catching us up on Witchblade. You can browse our selection of Witchblade comics and graphic novels right here on our site. Plus, come back Friday for our interview with artist Stjepan Sejic, and remember to enter our Witchblade/Artifacts Contest for your chance to win a variant comic signed by Ron Marz!

    BROWSE WITCHBLADE COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS NOW

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    Are you a fan of Witchblade? Post your comments below!

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    Interview: Whilce Portacio Draws Us Into Artifacts

    Artifacts Top CowTop Cow Month wouldn’t be complete without a look at the artist behind the second arc of Artifacts: Whilce Portacio! With a career spanning from the early ’80s to today, Portacio’s art has graced everything from Alien Legion and Longshot to Batman, Spawn, Iron Man, and Uncanny X-Men–and from Power Pack to The Punisher.

    Currently, Portacio has been busy at work on issues #5 through #8 of Artifacts, Top Cow’s mega-series starring its most popular characters. Portacio had a lot to say about his evolution as an artist, and the changes within the comics industry over the past three decades.

    TFAW.com: You’ve been working in comics–first as an inker, then as a penciller–since the mid-’80s. Has your approach to the work changed over the years?

    Whilce Portacio: Definitely yes. Because back then–and this is still true today–there were no guidelines of how to do professional work or school system to teach professional guidelines. As a new professional, you had to learn on the job. Funnily enough, the job of hitting your deadlines often gets in the way of actually having time to learn the ropes. You don’t ask and they don’t say. So like most new professionals, I did everything on instinct.

    As an artist you follow your instincts, and unfortunately, a lot of what you learn on your own isn’t necessarily the best way to do things. So, before, I used to draw my favorite part of the page and go from there. Sometimes I’d even start with, let’s say, a nose, and then build the rest of the figure, crossing my fingers that the final drawing will look right and actually fit on the page. Now back then, as a young man, I had all the energy to waste to do that. In hindsight, it is what led to lots of deadline crunches. Nowadays, everything is planned and organized. At the beginning of an issue, all reference is gathered. Your deadline is set in stone. Layouts for most, if not all, pages are drawn and approved by editors. Looking at all of the layouts I can see and plan which pages are gonna be easier than others, so that in a deadline crunch I can attack easy pages, so my inker can keep up behind me.

    Artifacts #7 Page 1 PreviewAs I attack each page I fully lay out each page, work out all anatomy problems, and then–and only then–do I go in and do the final drawing. My days are planned to which pages I do each day. I drive my girls to and from school everyday so I am awake every morning, so that means for the most part my sleep time is set. As a diabetic I need seven hours of sleep, otherwise I have no energy to work. When I was young, everything was done on the fly and you played catchup more than anything. Nowadays, everything is planned and predicted.

    TFAW.com: How do you think your style has evolved?

    WP: Style has never been in the forefront of my mind when I draw. I am a technical person, so the anatomy, the secrets of anatomy, the hidden lines of elegance within the human form, the truths of proportions within the body, etc., are where my interest lies. That and the secrets of different media and how I can relate it to my work.

    For example, a few years ago I started studying oil painting. One aspect you concentrate on is the importance of what light does to your figure. More to the point, how a highlight must be clear and uncluttered of detail. So now I am so, so conscious of making sure the highlight areas of my figures and faces are just that, clear and uncluttered with “extra” lines. To the point that I will go back into the drawing when done and actually erase lines in the highlight area.

    Also, as a result of my painting, and because I am such a computer geek, I have been constantly experimenting with digital painting and how that can affect my work. So all my style is dictated by my learning of art in as many aspects (oil painting, digital painting, technique, media differences, approach differences) as I can bear at any one time, and I try and try to apply it to what I am working on now.

    Artifacts #7 Page 2 PreviewAs an example, I do all my layouts digitally on my tablets. It is not only quicker that way, but it allows me to “carry” all my drawings, all my reference, all my notes, around me wherever I go. Therefore allowing me to work on something at any given moment. So if you trace how I have been studying different art techniques and how technology has kept up through the times, there you will see my art evolving, and why.

    TFAW.com: What have been the highlights of penciling Artifacts?

    WP: The true highlight of working with this particular art/editorial team is just that, working with these friends. We are all professional, we all believe in each others’ abilities, and we each every day show our worth to each other. Whenever you have a team of creatives working on an art project, if you can rely on everybody on the team to always, without fail, show you 200%, then you always, without hesitation give 200% back. And that leads to amazing completed work.

    I have not been so completely happy with the final outcome of a set of issues since way back, when I did the first Wetworks series. Back then we had the money and the fan base, and therefore the time to do it until it got done, the best way we could at the time. That lead to an ultimate product. Filip Sablik and Philip Smith of Top Cow have created an environment that allows its creative team do their best, to serve the story to the best of our abilities . . . it was a blast . . .

    TFAW.com: There are so many different characters to draw in this series, and each has his or her own distinct look. How did you prepare for this?

    WP: Just with brute force . . . I have a seven-inch tablet that I can carry with me everywhere I go. I live in California and am almost always wearing shorts with cargo pockets. My tablet slips quickly and easily into those pockets wherever I go. In that tablet I have gigabytes and gigabytes of costume references of every character in my plots. I have WiFi and 3G ability to grab more reference off the Internet (anywhere I happen to be). I also have the ability to email or text Ron Marz or Filip Sablik asking any questions I have.

    Artifacts #7 Page 3 PreviewBy the way–not only do Ron and I work on weekends, but my editors are also on call for me if needed . . . neat. In my tablet I also have all my plots, all my notes. I now have a Dagi stylus, so I can experiment with painting, or just get use to drawing new characters or even design new characters if need be. Now at home, in my studio, I have a full two-monitor setup to do all my hardcore work.

    As a precaution for deadlines, my home computer is a powerful workhorse tablet PC computer. Meaning I can rip it out of my studio, pile it into my backpack and do full high-res publish-quality work on the plane, in the hotel . . . and yes on the beach. 🙂 I’ve done so much published work on the workhorse computer I wish I could do all my work there. Without this type of a work pipeline I don’t know how I would keep up with the vast number of characters within the Top Cow Universe.

    TFAW.com: Is there a character you’ve particularly enjoyed drawing?

    WP: I use to hate the “Darkness” effect. It is so organic and unorganized. Drawing Darkness and Witchblade always seemed intellectually a chore. Now I get it artistically and it is fun just going with the artistic flow when drawing them. It makes each drawing of them different, and so never boring . . .

    TFAW.com: You’ve seen so many big changes in the comic book industry first-hand: from working for Marvel in the ’80s and founding Image in the ’90s, to today. What do you think about comics today?

    WP: Fundamentally working in comics is a totally different animal. I can freely say that the biggest problem we had back then was the belief that the work was more important than the deadline. Our business in the long run suffered because of that, but we put out memorable product.

    Artifacts #7 Page 4 PreviewNowadays, there are strict rules, there are calculations made before each job, and for the most part people follow the guidelines. A high priority nowadays is making sure each job makes economical sense. In the long run that works and keeps the companies running. Unfortunately it makes for an atmosphere where the best cannot always work with the best, because together their rates would kill any profit that particular book might make.

    Now for the top, top-tier professionals that’s no problem, because they can bring in the numbers, but that top tier is very small in number. The vast majority of working professionals fill the second tier and they are not given the number of opportunities to work with other pros of their caliber to create memorable product. That is why you are seeing more and more pencilers doing the inking and coloring on their own. By doing it on their own they can better control what the work ends up looking like when it gets published.

    Now add into that mix how legally a lot of creatives can’t work with other creatives because they are “with the other company” at the time. I applaud the business sense of the companies nowadays and how much healthy they are and for the future, but I strongly believe (from a business standpoint) more and more risk must be taken at this time (where the whole society is watching our comic book creations) to allow the best creatives more and more opportunity to “play” with each other to make memorable product.

    TFAW.com: What books are you reading?

    Artifacts #7 Page 5 PreviewWP: I am currently in the first digital chapter on my tablet of War and Peace. I just put down John Varley’s science-fiction epic Steel Beach. And in between that and work (I keep them in my bathroom) I try, and I try, and I try to read and understand Richard Feynman’s books on physics.

    TFAW.com: What else do you have coming up that you’re excited about?

    WP: I actually have three comic book projects I can’t talk about, an art book, and hope to start a penciling tutorial DVD soon . . .

    Thank you, Whilce, for your in-depth answers to our questions! Artifacts #7 is due out May 4–you can order it and the rest of the series here at TFAW.com.

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  • , ,

    Ron Marz Puts All the Pieces Together for Top Cow’s Artifacts

    Artifacts Ron MarzTop Cow Month continues with an interview with one of the publisher’s most prolific writers, Ron Marz, about one of their most high-profile series: Artifacts! A mysterious figure is trying to gather the 13 artifacts of the Top Cow universe–for example, the Witchblade, the Darkness, and the Spear of Destiny–bringing all of the major players together for one 13-issue limited series.

    Marz chatted with us about how the concept for Artifacts came together, how he feels about catalog-spanning crossovers, and what’s coming up next!

    TFAW.com: How did the idea behind Artifacts come together?

    Ron Marz: It really came about pretty organically. The kinds of stories we’d been telling were adding characters and pieces to the universe to the point where it felt like we should pay it all off with a big series.

    TFAW.com: It’s really been interesting to see so many of Top Cow’s major players, and their “artifacts,” interacting together. Has this been the plan all along, or was it a happy accident?

    RM: Once we realized that things were pointing towards a much larger storyline, we started to put the pieces in place to bring everything together. So I guess it was more of a happy accident initially, and then more of a specific plan as Artifacts got closer.

    TFAW.com: A lot of the characters come from titles you write on a monthly basis, including Witchblade, Angelus, and Magdalena. How difficult has it been for you to merge Artifacts with the stories of their regular books?

    Artifacts Ron MarzRM: I’ve really tried to keep Artifacts as a separate entity as much as possible. I feel like the current vogue of event storytelling that crosses into a dozen or more other titles is really taking advantage of a readership that’s already close to maxed out when it goes to the comic shop every week. So with the exception of reflecting something like the tragedy in Sara’s family in Witchblade, Artifacts very much tells its own story. Someone can read the 13 issues of Artifacts and get the complete story. Or, someone can read an ongoing series like Witchblade or Magdalena only, and also feel like they’re not missing out on anything.

    TFAW.com: Which characters were you most excited to get your hands on, and why?

    RM: I always have fun writing Aphrodite, and Tom Judge has proved really interesting to write. But I think the most intriguing aspect for me has been putting together characters who don’t normally interact with each other. The supernatural side of the universe, which is really represented by a lot of the Artifacts bearers, has never had much interaction with the more tech-oriented side, like Cyberforce and Hunter-Killer. Putting them next to each other has been a lot of fun.

    TFAW.com: How do you juggle writing so many comics at once?

    RM: I don’t leave my office a whole lot. The work load is honestly about all I can handle, but it does at least allow me the option of choosing what I work on each day. If Artifacts isn’t clicking on a particular day, I can switch over to Witchblade or Magdalena and still get something accomplished.

    TFAW.com: Do you have time to read comics? If so, which ones?

    Artifacts Ron MarzRM: Honestly, I don’t have anywhere near the time to read what I’d like. I find myself reading collections much more than single issues, so I pick up an array of things: Hellboy, Criminal, Jonah Hex, Walking Dead, Thor.

    TFAW.com: I’m fascinated by Aphrodite IV. How much of her actions are her own free will, and how much is simply the programming of whoever is controlling her?

    RM: Up to this point, I think most of it has been her programming. But one of the things I’m going to be playing with from here on out is her burgeoning self-awareness. By the end of Artifacts, Aphrodite will wind up in a different place than where she started.

    TFAW.com: The face of the mastermind behind Hope’s kidnapping–and the entire shadowy Artifacts plot–has been revealed, but his identity has not. What can you tell us about him?

    RM: I can tell you to read issue #7.

    TFAW.com: Longtime readers are excited about the return of Tom Judge, the damned priest. What’s his role in this story?

    RM: Tom Judge is in possession of the Rapture. One of the aspects of that particular artifact is that it brings hope to the hopeless. You can draw your own conclusions

    Artifacts Ron MarzTFAW.com: It looks like there will be a new artist every four issues: Michael Broussard, Whilce Portacio, and then Jeremy Haun. How have you selected each artist, and do you have any hints as to who comes next?

    RM: Each guy was really a right time-right place situation, where there was a schedule opening, as well as the right fit for the material. One of the biggest hurdles is always creative casting, putting the right people together on the right projects. When you do that properly, most of it falls in place. And no, no hints about who wraps it all up, other than it’s somebody I’m really excited to be working with.

    TFAW.com: Can you tell us anything about Jeremy Haun’s arc?

    RM: I think it’s going to be a revelation for a lot of people, because of a lot of Jeremy’s previous work has been of a street-level nature, like Berserker and his Bat-universe books. There’s going to be some real character-oriented aspects to his art, of course, but there’s also going to be an epic quality to a lot of it, which is something people haven’t seen Jeremy draw very much of in the past. He’s really stepping up his game.

    Our thanks go out to Ron for taking some time from his busy (very busy!) schedule to talk with us. Artifacts #7 is due May 4. Haven’t gotten into Artifacts yet? Order Artifacts Vol. 1 and 2 here! Plus, stay tuned for our interview with Artifacts artist Whilce Portacio on Friday.

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  • , , ,

    John Mahoney, Filip Sablik & Thomas Nachlik Tells Us About Last Mortal

    Last Mortal Top CowTop Cow Month continues with an in-depth look at Last Mortal, the upcoming four-issue series from Top Cow’s Minotaur imprint. Alec King is a screw-up whose life couldn’t get any worse. His best friend is dead, he lives in a shipping container, and he’s ready to end it all. The only problem: after shooting himself in the head, he wakes up–unscathed. Turns out the guy with the worthless life . . . cannot die. So what happens next?

    We chatted with writers John Mahoney and Filip Sablik and artist Thomas Nachlik to get the answers–read on now. Plus, make sure to enter our Last Mortal Contest to enter to win an original panel of artwork by Nachlik!

    TFAW.com: Can you introduce us to Last Mortal?

    John Mahoney: Last Mortal is the story of Alec King, the suicidal immortal. Essentially, the story of a guy who gets involved in a murder plot and, when he botches the job, tries to kill himself before his employers can come after him, only to discover he cannot die.

    Filip Sablik: That sums it up pretty nicely. On a thematic level, Last Mortal is a story of potential redemption. About the kind of guy who is used to always taking the easy way out and now has had his final escape closed off from him. Will Alec pick himself up from the rock bottom of his life and begin to redeem himself? That’s the story we’re telling. All wrapped up in a grounded, noir-revenge story.

    TFAW.com: Where did this idea come from, and how did it evolve?

    Win This Page From Thomas Nachlik
    Win This Panel by Thomas Nachlik!

    JM: The basic premise came straight from the demented minds of two fourteen-year old suburban kids. That is to say, Filip and I created Alec when we were in junior high school.

    FS: Yeah, the idea is one we’ve been kicking around for over fifteen years. The original nugget of the idea, “a suicidal immortal,” is the same as what we came up with back then, but the property and story have evolved tremendously since then. One of the biggest evolutions in the project came when we brought artist Thomas Nachlik on. He has contributed immensely to the look and feel of the book.

    TFAW.com: You two have been friends since the sixth grade–what’s your working relationship like?

    FS: It’s really an extension of our friendship; when we sit down to write an issue it starts as a phone conversation, just throwing around ideas. John typically will do a first pass, usually in a hybrid comic/prose format, and then I’ll come in and break the story down into pages and panels. Since I come from more of an artistic background, John usually leaves the visual pacing of the issue to me. He’s definitely the more poetic of the two of us, so a lot of the more eloquent lines in the book are all him.

    JM: We have an excellent dynamic tension. I over-write everything and drown the pages in dialogue and captions, and then Filip comes along, cuts out all the crap, and makes us look like professionals.

    Last Mortal Top CowFS: Hah!

    TFAW.com: So is your friendship at all like Alec and Brian’s? Who’s Alec, and who’s Brian?

    JM: Over the course of writing and editing this story over the years, many of our personal characteristics have begun to show up in both characters. Since we wrote this book together, there is a little of both of us in each character. I would hope our good characteristics ended up in Alec, and our bad in Brian, but who knows. You should probably ask our wives.

    FS: Don’t ask them, they’d probably say we’re both Brian!

    TFAW.com: At the beginning of the series (Spoiler Alert!) Brian is dead. Will we see flashbacks of their friendship?

    JM: Oh, yes. Throughout the four-issue series we get to see how the boys met, a few key moments from their adolescent years that made them into the men they became, and progressing, of course, to how they ended up living in a shipping container down by the docks.

    FS: That was a key component of the structure of the story. Brian is the one character who knew Alec before we (the reader) are introduced to him in the first issue, so we used him throughout the series to inform the reader about Alec. I’ve always loved the storytelling technique of a dead character continuing to inform and influence the story.

    TFAW.com: Why is Alec such a loser? What’s Brian’s role?

    FS: Brian’s role is basically to be a bad influence on Alec. He’s the devil on Alec’s shoulder and unfortunately, Alec never met an angel to guide him the other way.

    Last Mortal #1 Page 1JM: Brian had a lot to do with Alec ending up in the low place where we find him at the opening of the book. That said, one of Alec’s character flaws is the fact that he makes very bad decisions. These bad decisions are based on him being a bit of a coward. At heart this is a tale of redemption and, over the course of the narrative, a key question will be how Alec goes about learning to be less terrified by life.

    FS: One of the biggest challenges we set for ourselves was introducing readers to a character at his lowest point, but still making him interesting and likeable enough to keep the reader interested in reading about his trials and tribulations. One of the things we did to try and achieve this was show Alec in the past when he was a bit of a less of a loser and also small little scenes where you see a glimmer of the man he could be. Hopefully, we succeeded!

    TFAW.com: Alec being immortal puts a spin on the typical a revenge-noir thriller. Will there be any other supernatural elements?

    JM: We have tried to keep this story as grounded in reality as possible. The only supernatural element you will see is Alec’s immortality.

    FS: That and Thomas Nachlik’s inexplicably awesome design sensibilities.

    TFAW.com: Will we get any clues about Alec’s condition in the four-issue miniseries?

    JM: Yes. But only hints, and hopefully they will be subtle.

    FS: We do have future plans for the series, and part of that is offering up some explanation as to why Alec is immortal. But I’d like to think that why Alec is immortal is less important than what he does with his immortality.

    Last Mortal #1 Page 2TFAW.com: Is Brian really dead?

    JM: Yes.

    TFAW.com: What’s the significance of the dragon emblem on the cover of issue #1 (and #2)?

    JM: The dragon emblem is one of Alec’s tattoos. It is actually an ouroboros, one of humanity’s oldest symbols, representing eternal life. As the story progresses, further meanings will become apparent. That and it is a wicked-cool symbol that Thomas created from a basic description of a tattoo I have on my back.

    FS: If readers look hard enough, we did try to sprinkle in a healthy amount of meta-commentary and dual meanings in the series. The ouroboros is one of those touches.

    TFAW.com: Right now, Last Mortal is slated to be a four-issue miniseries. Do you have plans for Alec after this? Where would he conceivably go, after avenging his friend?

    JM: This four-issue series is meant to be self-contained and be a complete story unto itself.

    FS: But yes, we definitely would love to continue Alec’s story and are working on some plans to do just that.

    TFAW.com: What were your influences and inspirations for this book?

    FS: I think I internalize a lot of my influences. I went to school for art and one of the downsides of that education is I tend to hyper-analyze my drawings after graduating. It’s the curse of education: you know enough to know that you aren’t doing it right. On the writing side, I intentionally try to internalize pieces of information I’ve picked up along the way to keep it more organic and less analytical.

    Last Mortal #1 Page 3JM: My personal hero is Joseph Campbell, whose work influenced much of my take on the Last Mortal. Campbell is credited with writing one of the most influential textbooks of the past century, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, which described the basic pattern in which all heroic epics throughout history have followed. Alec’s story arc is based off the framework that Campbell laid down. Whenever I get stuck with writer’s block, I go back to this book or listen to one of Campbell’s lectures to get me back on track.

    FS: Absolutely, Campbell was definitely a major influence on the series.

    TFAW.com: How did you choose Thomas Nachlik as your artist?

    JM: Filip has a great story about that . . .

    FS: I met Thomas at Wizard World Chicago in 2007. I was doing portfolio reviews at the Top Cow booth and he came up to show his work. He was instantly memorable, not only because of his art, but because he was a Polish artist living in Germany showing his portfolio in Chicago.

    I told him I thought he was fantastic, but his style would probably not be right for a Top Cow project, which is the worst thing you can tell an aspiring professional. It’s the “it’s not you, it’s me” line of portfolio reviews. But I took his samples and they really stuck with me. A couple of weeks later I showed them to John, and we both instantly agreed he’d be perfect for Last Mortal. I dropped him a line and told him I had a personal project I’d love to have him involved in and the rest, as they say, is history.

    TFAW.com: What can you tell us about the Minotaur imprint? What makes something a Minotaur book?

    FS: We’ve been equating it to the independent film arm of a major studio. Top Cow produces the comic equivalents of big summer blockbuster films with big concepts and high production values. Minotaur will be producing more intimate, nuanced and grounded stories. Echoes is still at its core a Top Cow-style story, but the presentation and the scale is a much better fit for Minotaur. The same is true for Last Mortal.

    Last Mortal #1 Page 4TFAW.com: Where does Minotaur fit within Top Cow?

    FS: It’s a separate imprint, so there’s no direct connection other than these are stories we want to tell and share and Minotaur provides the right avenue for it. We’ll be releasing one Minotaur series at a time for the time being to keep the line intentionally boutique. We want to build it slowly so that fans and retailers can learn to trust the line as a place for quality storytelling.

    TFAW.com: What comics are you enjoying right now?

    JM: Fortunately I finished writing this book before I began reading them, or Alec’s story would have turned out very differently, but I am currently reading a lot of Crossed, and anxiously awaiting the next issues of Neonomicon and Echoes.

    FS: I tend to read a healthy amount of books to keep abreast of what is working and not working in the industry. The Walking Dead, Invincible, Ultimate Spider-Man and Fables are perennial favorites. Most recently, I’ve really enjoyed Tumor, Darwyn Cooke’s Parker adaptations, Nonplayer by Nate Simpson, and Butcher Baker by Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston.

    TFAW.com: What would you two like to do next?

    JM: Filip and I have been talking about a horror book we would like to write together. Hopefully readers will respond to Last Mortal, which would suggest to us that there is an audience for our stuff.

    FS: And of course, more Last Mortal!

    TFAW.com: Thomas, how did you get involved with Last Mortal?

    Last Mortal #1 Page 5Thomas Nachlik: I met Filip at Wizard World Chicago 2007 at a Top Cow portfolio review. He liked my work, but couldn’t offer me anything at Top Cow. He did send me his Forever Man script, though–as the project was called at the beginning. I liked the Vertigo nature of it and got on-board as fast as possible.

    TFAW.com: What can you tell us about the story?

    TN: Personally, I think Last Mortal mainly approaches the question of, is immortality a superpower, built around the story of the naive but intelligent and sensitive Alec King. Mixed with shooting, punching, blood splatter here and there, hot chicks here and there, dirty cops, bad politicians, drugs, and a werewolf mask.

    TFAW.com: Your art is very stark and gritty, which is great for a revenge-noir thriller, but it looks like there will be some supernatural elements as well. How are you approaching them?

    TN: Without spoiling anything, the main supernatural element of the story is that Alec can’t die, even after shooting himself in the head. A “wake up from the dead” scene like this needs an approach that is as realistic as possible, and I usually play it in front of a mirror and try to imagine myself as Alec in this situation. But I don’t think it has anything to do with my artistic style, how I portrait supernatural elements, it’s more a question of the artist’s imagination.

    TFAW.com: What did you keep in mind when you were designing the characters?

    TN: Designing the characters was a combination on satisfying Filip and John and putting my own ideas into the figures. I also use actors for reference, because it helps me to display facial expressions more realistically, which means that basically I was casting a Last Mortal movie while designing the characters. I still remember I used Christian Bale for “Callahan,” the politician–not really his face, but the personality he portrayed in Equilibrium and some other movies.

    Last Mortal #1 Page 6TFAW.com: How does Last Mortal compare to your Pilot Season title, Forever?

    TN: I’m much more emotionally connected to Last Mortal than I was to Forever. I remember doing my first Last Mortal sketches in the late 2007. I went through a rough patch in my life while doing this project, so there’s a lot of myself in Alec King. I even had his haircut for a period of time. 🙂 It was very exciting to work on Forever with Mat Hawkins and Brad Ingelsby, but very down to earth and professional.

    TFAW.com: How did you get involved with comics?

    TN: I drew since I was I little kid, Disney characters mostly. Because I grew up in Poland, where crime and war comics were extremely popular, sooner or later I discovered that it’s not just the drawing itself, but actually telling a story through my art that fascinates me the most. My father, who lived in Germany at this time, sent me Batman and Superman books from time to time, and I got totally hooked on American mainstream books.

    TFAW.com: What were your influences, growing up?

    TN: Polish artists mostly, in my early childhood. But after reading my first Batman and the Outsiders book drawn by Jim Aparo, it was definitely him. Also, I always was and still am very influenced by music.

    TFAW.com: What’s it like working for Top Cow and the Minotaur imprint?

    TN: As far as I know, us and Echoes are the first Minotaur projects, and it feels like . . . being a part of an experiment. I’m excited and scared at the same time. I remember reading Marc Silvestri’s Cyberforce in the ‘90s and being totally blown away by his groundbreaking style, and now I actually am doing another project for Top Cow, that’s just huge.

    TFAW.com: What’s your dream project?

    TN: That’s easy to answer: Batman vs. Punisher.

    TFAW.com: Do you want to continue doing noir?

    TN: I don’t consider my style as being just noir. As the Last Mortal story progressed, my style changed and became more and more grittier and line oriented, which probably is a natural development every artist experiences. As much as black spaces have fascinated me in the past, now it’s line weights that I concentrate on.

    TFAW.com: What comics are you enjoying right now?

    TN: I always read comics because of the art, so I have to say that I enjoy those with the most interesting and complex styles the most, artists like Tomm Coker, Alex Maleev, Ashley Wood, Jock, etc.

    Our thanks to John, Filip, and Thomas for taking the time to answer our questions! Make sure to pre-order Last Mortal now to make sure you get your copies!

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    Have you been curious about Last Mortal? What would you do if you discovered you were immortal? Post your brainstorms below to enter our Last Mortal Contest and enter to win a panel of original art from Thomas Nachlik!

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  • ,

    Get to Know Top Cow in April During Top Cow Month

    Top Cow Month

    Top Cow Month is here! This April, get to know the creators and titles of this fantasy-horror publisher.

    Founded in 1992 by artist Marc Silvestri as part of Image Comics, Top Cow is home to such popular titles as Witchblade, Angelus, and The Darkness. Its new mega-series, Artifacts, brings together Top Cow’s most intriguing characters and is an excellent gateway read to this exciting studio!

    We’ll be highlighting both classic series and new ones, like Netherworld and Last Mortal, all month long.

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