Peter Bagge Discusses Credo, Fire!! (and Maybe Just A Little Bit of Hate)

Written by Ross Webster

Peter Bagge in Denver, June 2019.

Ross Webster: Those readers who know you mostly for Hate, Neat Stuff and the Buddy Bradley saga might be surprised to hear about your new project which is Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story, but actually this is by no means your first foray into historical or biographical comics. Can you please give a brief sum up of your history with that?

Peter Bagge: Sure, well I started doing biographical comics fifteen, almost twenty years ago. It started when Apocalypse Nerd, which is a graphic novel, it was originally a miniseries and in the back of each issue I would do these short comics about the Founding Fathers - which I called Founding Fathers Funnies. They have since then been collected into their own book. So that was the beginning of my doing biographical stories - and the approach I took with those, as well as everything else I have done since, is to be historically accurate. You know, I’m not making things up. It’s not historical fiction. But also emphasizing the things I find both interesting and funny. What I pretty much like to try and do is write about people that (for the most part) I admire, but also have enough personality to them that I can draw humor from them. Like when I would read a biography about say John Adams, while I admire him for the most part I’d also be laughing my head off. And these biographers were not trying to make me laugh. It’s just that John Adams was such a crybaby (LAUGH) while at the same time, you know he did rather brave things, it was just such a confusing mix of personality traits which I try to capture in writing about him. And then later on I did a twelve page biographical strip about a friend and peer of Rose Wilder Lane, a woman named Isabel Patterson and I did that for Reason Magazine. So once I was working that long - doing a piece as long as twelve pages - I pretty much felt like I was ready to do a full-length, a book length biographical comic.

Women Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story (2013) by Peter Bagge.

Fire: The Zora Neale Hurston Story (2017) by Peter Bagge.

Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story (2019) by Peter Bagge.

So I approached Drawn & Quarterly about the idea of at least trying one and if it did okay making a series of them. And so the first full-length book I did was about Margaret Sanger, the birth control advocate. The next one I did was about the American writer and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston and now this third one (and probably the last one, 'cause it’s torture) is on Rose Wilder Lane - who was in her time a very successful writer and a political activist of sorts. She went from being (in her younger days) extremely left-wing, going back all the way to the Eugene Debs era. She was a socialist, borderline communist and then especially after she traveled through Eastern Europe around the time the Soviets were taking over. Just seeing what that looks like in real life - it radicalized her in the opposite direction. But even though Rose Wilder Lane is credited - for one thing - with coming up with the term libertarianism and her philosophy mostly defines what most people think of as the American Libertarian movement. She actually was an anarchist. Though she knew that anarchism wouldn’t work in reality as people are still assholes. (LAUGH). She just hated government; all forms of government so that would be the safest way to describe her, as an anarchist.

Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story (2019) p. 41, by Peter Bagge.

RW: And although Lane and Patterson were very influential in the creation of the Libertarian movement, they’ve been by-and-large overshadowed by folks like Ayn Rand. Do you have any idea why that might be?

PB: Well first of all, just in case the listener or whoever’s going to read this doesn’t know, Rose Wilder Lane is the daughter of Laura Ingells Wilder and she also had a very heavy hand in writing the Little House books, although she didn't want credit for it. Well at least not during her lifetime. Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Patterson, and Ayn Rand all got to know each other quite well during WWII. There’s that old saying that “war is the health of the state” and they saw... Even though they were by no means sympathetic towards the Nazi regime or Imperial Japan. And of course they believed that once we were attacked in Pearl Harbor we had to fight the war, we had no choice. They also saw how WWII was - even more than during the Depression, WWII was empowering the United States in that it was turning us into an empire and an imperialistic empire and they worried that there would be no coming back from it, and there hasn’t been any coming back from it. And they were very aware of that and they wanted other Americans to be aware of that, so all three of them in their own ways, wanted to write about it. So in the same year (1944) they all wrote books very much espousing this particular viewpoint that they all shared - which became known as the libertarian philosophy of minimizing the power of the state.

With Rose Lane and Patterson, they both wrote these polemics. Isabel Patterson, she wrote a book called God and the Machine and Rose Lane wrote a book called The Discovery Of Freedom, and those two books are very similar. They both more or less cover the history of Western Civilization and showed how there’s been this back-and-forth, push-and-pull between totalitarian regimes and when the powers that be would pull back and at those times that’s when men and women would flourish and take great leaps forward. The problem with those two books is that they were polemics. They were political philosophy books which generally don’t sell and neither of those books sold well. Lane’s book was published by some obscure publisher, he made only 2000 copies of it and in her lifetime it was never reprinted. She wanted to rewrite it, never did. However Ayn Rand, she chose to make her point in fiction form with her book The Fountainhead, which became a monster bestseller and continues to sell massive amounts, one of the bestselling books of all time, it was turned into a movie almost immediately. So that is why the other two are overshadowed.

Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story (2019) p.45, by Peter Bagge.

Curiously though, until that point Ayn Rand was the obscure one. She was writing treatments for Hollywood. I think she had one other novel that did not sell well at all, while Isabel Patterson and Rose Lane (especially Rose Lane) were bestselling authors. Throughout the 1920s and 30s Rose Lane was the highest paid female author probably in the world, certainly in the United States.

RW: Wow

PB: I know, it’s so strange that nobody knows her now but her own novels sold phenomenally well. And Isabel Patterson also sold well in the same era. Patterson was probably best known as the book reviewer for the New York Herald.

RW: One of the things I like is that your iconic style, the cartoony “Hate” style seems to work very well in portraying a good “warts and all” look at Lane. I find that by-and-large the majority of bio comics that I read, they usually fail to capture their subject in an interesting way artistically at least.*

PB: It’s interesting that you brought that up because the biggest and most common criticism that I get for my books (especially these three books I did for Drawn & Quarterly) is that people can’t stand my drawing style because it is irreverent. That’s intentional. And to people who admire the subject matter, they want reverence, so they want it to be drawn - at the very least - in a more realistic style and not so cartoony. A lot of people automatically assume that I’m making fun of the subject matter which is absurd. You know I don’t spend three years writing about somebody just to make fun of them. Except though like you said it captures their more human moments. All three were human beings and they had their faults and shortcomings and made mistakes and I want to show that. That makes them relatable.

Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story (2019) p. 57, by Peter Bagge.

Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story (2019) p. 57, by Peter Bagge.

Like you said to me, my drawing style is best when capturing that. But you know, the drawing style is my personality so my personality is really coming through. For people who are trying to be reverent, it’s like the author/artist either doesn’t have much of a personality or they’re suppressing it. They’re worried about getting in the way of their subject matter - which is impossible. I read recently that somebody said that “every book ever written is an autobiography” and in a sense I think that’s absolutely true.

Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story (2019) p. 12, by Peter Bagge.

RW: For all three of these books you did a copious amount of research. Was that mostly you or did you have research assistants?

PB: Oh, that’d be nice! (LAUGH) I couldn’t even afford myself! (LAUGH) It would be like a solid year of reading everything I could get my hands on both about these women and everything written by these women. Even though Hurston and Lane who were first and foremost authors, Margaret Sanger herself wrote a lot of books - in her lifetime she wrote seven books. Nonfiction of course. So I’ve read everything they’ve written that I could find. And especially with Sanger there were a lot of books written about her. Actually to this day there is only one book biography about Rose Wilder Lane but there are tons about her mother. And to read about her mother is to read a lot about Rose Lane. When I did Credo the spotlight is on Rose Wilder Lane and I tried the best that I could to minimize writing, drawing about or referencing her mother and that was pretty much impossible, her mother is like in half the book. They were sort of attached at the hip. They’re like... There’s a character from a cartoon where Porky Pig tries to find the Dodo  (I think it was from that cartoon) where there’s this monster that had one pair of legs and it split off into two separate torsos and they’re just punching each other and beating each other up - that was Rose and her mother (LAUGH).

Yes, it was a lot of research and I would stop researching when I’d reach the point where I felt like I was re-reading the same material; I wasn’t getting anything new. And also - this was especially true of Sanger - there’s a lot of utter bullshit written about her. Entire books that are just lies from cover-to-cover. And again it was all an attempt to demonize her and Planned Parenthood, which she was the founder of. But even more recently there are people who have problems with Rose Lane’s politics, but they also grew up loving the Little House books. One author wrote an entire book basically about her mother but just as much about Rose Lane and these other women who have written articles for like, The New Yorker and places like that where it seems like they’re trying their best to separate Lane from her mother. They still want to put the mom on a pedestal because they love her books so much, but they’re trying to reconcile that with Lane’s politics because all these women are very leftist/progressive types. And in doing so, they all thoroughly demonized Lane, they made a big deal about her.

Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story (2019) p. 40, by Peter Bagge.

They just literally called her “crazy.” And she did have…If that diagnosis existed in her lifetime, she definitely would have been diagnosed as being bipolar. But it’s something that she struggled with, and when I would read these women dissing Rose Wilder Lane they felt perfectly comfortable describing her as quote-un-quote “crazy,” because they didn’t like her politics - they did want to demonize her. But, can you imagine talking about anybody else who suffered from bipolar disorder and dismissing all their opinions? Just for that reason? It’s like “Well I don’t have to listen to you" or "Even if I agree with you, you’re crazy so everybody should ignore you! Don’t bother uttering opinions because you’re crazy!”

RW: I think too often we ask “how someone can believe in such and such?!” when instead we should ask “Who is this person and how did they come to believe what they believe?”

PB: Right, exactly! (LAUGH) Go to the source, if you really wanted to know! That’s the other thing too, at the first half of Lane’s life, she was a very hard left progressive type, but she was still quote-un-quote “crazy” then! You know, the “crazy” factor always seems to come in later in life, when her mood swings became much more subdued. She was no longer emotionally all over the map in her older age.

RW: What was the most attractive aspect of Lane, Hurston and Sanger to make you write these books?

PB: Well, probably the most consistent thing about all three women is how much they all fought and pushed for human autonomy and human freedom. Freedom for everybody, to live the way you want and that’s what they all did. All three of them were utterly fearless. Or nobody is without fear, but they never let fear stop them from doing exactly what they wanted to do. They never got in their own way, if you know what I mean. And they didn’t dwell on it, none of these three women had a victim mentality. I mean they were all by default feminists, and if you asked them they’d all say “yeah sure, I’m a feminist, of course.” The lived the lives that all feminists feel women should lead. You know, pretty much just doing exactly what you want to do, pursue your goals. But they didn’t wear that on their sleeves. They didn’t whine, they just did. It was all doing with all three of them, they were hard chargers and they were always moving forward and didn’t let anybody distract them.

Words didn’t hurt them. I mean they didn’t like being criticized but - especially Hurston - rarely took criticism very hard. For example with Hurston, her contemporaries really criticized her very heavily and very cruelly for her choice to write a lot of her fiction in a heavy Southern Black dialect. They thought that was like choosing to be a Stepin Fechit** or something like that. And she hated that criticism, it would really upset her if a good friend of hers, someone that she admired was telling her not to write that way but it never stopped her. She even had books rejected, entire books rejected where the publisher would say “if you get rid of all this Southern Black dialect, we’ll publish it.” So here she walked away from deals when she needed money and most of her life she was broke. She walked away from book deals simply because she refused to get rid of the dialect. And now that’s what she’s praised for because she saw it, now everybody sees the beauty of it. This poetry she was trying to capture that she heard in her youth. And now everybody recognizes that, but at the time it just made everybody self-conscious. They thought that only White racists would get a kick out of it, and only then for a laugh.

Fire: The Zora Neale Hurston Story (2017) pg25, by Peter Bagge.

Fire: The Zora Neale Hurston Story (2017) pg30, by Peter Bagge.

Fire: The Zora Neale Hurston Story (2017) pg58, by Peter Bagge.

RW: I guess we already kind of answered that now, but what do you want your readers to take away from Credo and the other two?

PB: Well, pretty much what I was just saying. Like with these three women too, when I would read about them and researching it, they made everybody alive today seem like such ninnies and cowards, and that’s including myself. And I like to think that like them I am a man who does what he wants to do and says what he wants to say, but even they make me feel like a coward. So I like to think that their lives and their attitudes would embolden everybody. You know, don’t self-censor. Like of course I’m referring to social media and how people communicate on it, and how people respond to it. You know call it this policing which turns into self policing.

Women Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story (2013) pg51, by Peter Bagge.

People still haven’t reached a point where you could put that in its proper place, where you could ignore it. Where if somebody goes on Twitter and says “ Person A is a sexist and a racist,” and all of a sudden everybody’s running for cover instead of either asking the person making that claim “why do you say that? Show me evidence.” Or simply just ignoring that person. We have to learn to ignore these bomb throwers. You know, they’re just throwing bombs just to get attention and to vent and take out their frustrations out on a stranger, without thinking of the consequences - but right now the consequences can be horrible. People have a legitimate reason to be fearful. We haven’t reached that point yet but that’s what everyone has to do, we have to not self-censor and be so afraid. And especially do this if you’re an artist or a writer or an activist, politically involved don’t let the naysayers prevent you from doing what you want to do.

RW: Ok, just a few more little things. What are you working on next?

PB: That’s a good question. I’m not sure (LAUGH). I have a verbal agreement with a publisher to do a memoir about my late brother, which is something I’ve been considering doing ever since he died, which was over twenty years ago. But I’m still afraid to do it for the same reason I haven’t done it for twenty odd years, it hits a little too close to home. Other than that, I’m going to be doing a lot more work for Reason Magazine, who I’ve been working with for almost twenty years, but while I was doing these biographies, my output with Reason has really slowed down. But I’m going to start doing more. In fact, I’m going to start doing short four-page biographies from them. I might make that a semi-regular thing.

RW: And then of course, there is a new history book about Robert Crumb’s Weirdo Magazine.

PB: Oh right, The Book Of Weirdo. Which again for your readers who might not know, all through the 80s there was an underground comic anthology called Weirdo and it was founded by R. Crumb and Crumb was involved in every issue, did the covers, did a feature. But for a while, for about three years, I was the managing editor for Weirdo. Which umm, was quite the learning experience, right? (LAUGH). And since Weirdo stopped existing around 1990, it’s largely been forgotten but a comics journalist named Sean B. Cooke, he suddenly became obsessed with Weirdo. And so it’s a brand new book out now, it’s this big 300 page book. It’s about the magazine and there’s long interviews with me and Robert Crumb and his wife, Ailene Crumb, who was the last managing editor. He also managed to track down just about every living contributor and talk to them about it.

Hate (1990) #1 by Peter Bagge.

Weirdo (1981) #25 pg12, art by Peter Bagge.

Hate Annual (2001) #5 pg1, by Peter Bagge.

RW: And then last but not least, any chance we’ll catch up on Buddy in the near future?

PB: Well, I wanted to keep the character alive after Hate ended, so I would put out once a year - I’d put out something called Hate Annual and I’d always have a short Buddy Bradley story in there. Not just to keep the character alive, but I still had a lot of story ideas for him, like tons of ideas. But as he got older, interest in him amongst the readers really diminished. A lot of former Hate fans didn’t even know Hate Annual was coming out (LAUGH). While I was doing it, people kept saying “when are you going to do Hate again?” It’s like “I am! I am doing it!” So I was like “this is ridiculous, nobody’s paying attention.” So I retired him. And if I get inspired, I guess I’ll do another Buddy Bradley story, but now it just doesn’t seem like it’s worth it.

* Noted other exceptions being Ho Che Anderson, Kate Beaton, Nick Bertozzi, Box Brown, Chester Brown, Larry Gonick, Shigeru Mizuki, Ed Piskor, and Noah van Sciver.

** Stepin Fechit was the stage name of Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, a prominent Black American vaudevillian performer during the 1930s and the first Black actor billed in Hollywood films. Overtime though, his main comic persona billed as the “Laziest Man in the World,” would increasingly become associated with negative stereotypes. Some future Black American critics and film scholars would view Lincoln Perry more kindly, arguing that the Fechit persona was a kind of trickster character of African American folklore.


Ross Webster

Ross R. Webster was born in Wheatridge Colorado and raised in Eugene Oregon and Aurora Colorado, but now calls Denver home. Ross primarily writes fiction and nonfiction in both prose and script form. Possessing a bachelor’s degree in Humanities from CU Boulder and a master’s degree from UC-Denver in Public History, Ross has been an active writer and researcher starting with Building a Movement and a Monument: The Rise of Tibetan Buddhism in America and the Construction of Colorado’s Great Stupa for Colorado Heritage Magazine in 2011. Since then most of his research and writings have contributed to academic journals, newspaper articles and local history publications. Currently he is working on his very first podcast, working title Tales From Beyond The Page, a series of historical vignettes from the lives of comics creators. He is also working on his first professional forays into fiction with Maxine Spaulding Citizen of the World: Holiday in Cambodia and The Fire From Heaven.

Lucid Dreaming With Rio Burton at Fort Collins Comic Con 2018

Written by Neil Greenaway

Rio Burton at Fort Collins Comic Con 2018. (1)

Fort Collins Comic Con is always an interesting show for me. Even though it is a relatively small show, and the vendors are almost all artists from the local scene, I ALWAYS see projects that I was not previously aware of and meet people whose work I have never seen before. Such was the case with FCCC 2018 and the illustration work of Rio Burton.

Inktober 2018 Witches - Day 16 by Rio Burton.

As a student, Rio had lived in the UK for 6 years and earned her BA Degree in Illustration before taking a few years off to travel the world with her husband, Rob. Now settled in Colorado and working full-time as a freelance artist, she recently released the third issue of Lucid Dreaming - her self-published comic about a boy living in a world without dreams (available on Comixology and WebToon).

I thoroughly enjoy Ms. Burton's art. She draws an elegant, effortless looking line with her inks and uses a lighting technique (combined with pops of bright color) that lend her pieces an ethereal, backlit glow. I am excited to see what she does next, she strikes me as an artist with a lot left to say.

Neil Greenaway: Can you start us out just a little bit by telling us what Lucid Dreaming is all about?

Lucid Dreaming #2 by Rio Burton.

Rio Burton: Sure. Lucid Dreaming is set in a dystopian future, where everyone has lost the ability to dream. It’s a crappy world and no one is happy. So, everyone finds their escape through a drug (called a “Fix”) which enables them to dream - but it has negative side effects on the body. You end up just overdosing and deteriorating mentally and physically. In this world is a boy that can dream naturally, but unlike the drug - which gives you these really good dreams - his dreams are a mix; they can be bad. They cause him to question his life, and he wants to find answers as to why the world is the way it is. His dreams push him to seek out answers, and he is travelling to find these answers - but he doesn’t know really what they mean. That is (basically) the story.

NG: How far into it are you?

RB: I am currently working on the third chapter. Each chapter is about 30 pages long and I am planning it to span 12 to 15 chapters.

NG: What is your release schedule like on this? How often does it come out?

RB: I am trying to release it once a month, but it depends on how much client work I get during that month. So sometimes it is every other month.

NG: What sort of art do you do for your client work?

RB: Right now I am working on comic books, but I have in the past done various projects: book covers, table top games, random things. It’s quite interesting because this year is my first year going full time into illustration. Before that I was working a second job, and we have had kind of a roller coaster of a life - let me tell you. I used to live in England. My husband and I went travelling for a couple of years around the world and when we went back we found that they had changed the immigration rules. So all of a sudden I had to move back to America. We had to get his green card, and I just got so caught up in working a dead end job - just to try and get all that sorted out. I felt like I had lost my opportunity to work as an illustrator full time. It was kind of a dark time, and I am so happy I climbed out of that.

The Thing by Rio Burton.

NG: What motivated you to get back into art?

RB: Well I never stopped. I was always working on it on the side, but I just felt like I missed the opportunity to do it as a career. It was actually talking to Jen Bartel that... She really gave me a kick up the butt, like, it’s not too late. Just go for it! So I did, and ever since then doors have been opening. It’s only really been a couple of years since that conversation with her, but it has really changed my life. I owe a lot to her.

NG: That is so cool. Looking at your art, I see that you have quite a few wolves. Is that because wolves factor into one of your projects or is it just a personal fascination for you?

RB: That’s a personal fascination. That actually is how Dailen Ogden and I bonded.

NG: Really?

RB: Yes. I love wolves, I always have. I started doing a couple wolf pieces and found that there is a market out there for people who also love wolves. It’s really fantastic. I love to do wolf pieces for comic conventions.

NG: You find that the fans like them as well?

RB: Yeah, yeah.

NG: Wolves are awesome. When you are creating your art, do you usually work traditionally or digitally?

RB: I used to start off traditionally. I would ink traditionally, scan it in, and do the rest in photoshop - but now it’s all purely photoshop. That took a while to get used to.

Original art by Rio Burton for sale at Fort Collins Comic Con 2018.

NG: As someone who used to work traditionally and moved into digital, does it bother you not having a piece that you can hold at the end of the day?

RB: It actually doesn’t. I find that my work is more flexible. I feel like in a way I have more confidence working digitally.

NG: Really? Why is that?

RB: Yeah. At first, it didn’t start off like that at all. Now I feel like it’s easier for me to make mistakes and easier for me to change the piece as I’m working on it. Whereas when I was inking traditionally it was kind of just set in its way, now as I am working digitally I can change things so much easier. So I feel more confident in my work. I also think about the environmental impact that is might have, you know? The effects that it has on the environment producing paints and paper. So, it’s an interesting thought.

NG: Speaking of that, I think the European rules on cadmium in paint just changed. I have been hearing a lot of artists complaining because paint companies are going through and removing all of the heavy metals - and a whole lot of popular colors are disappearing off the shelves. I am a fan of traditional art myself, but I think that the change in color availability might affect more people going digital.

Flightless by Rio Burton.

RB: Yeah, it is interesting. I mean, I love digital because I have all the colors I want right there. I can pick and choose. I adjust my hues, saturation, and colors all the time - like a DJ. So, it’s really easy to make those changes and have all these colors you want without having to buy every color off the shelf and stick to it.

NG: Going back to Lucid Dreaming for a minute, are you the only one working on it? Do you write and draw?

RB: Yeah, yeah.

NG: In your mind do you have the whole story planned out? Do you know the whole arc of the story?

RB: Yup. I have the whole script written out.

NG: Oh wow.

RB: I haven’t divided it all up into the chapters yet, so I am kind of doing that as I go along, finding good stopping points for each chapter. That’s why I only have an estimation as to how long it is going to be. But yeah, I have the full script. It’s just actually making the comic now.

NG: That is a huge step. There are a lot of people doing web comics, just sort of making it up week by week, and I honestly can’t fathom how that works in their brain.

RB: I can’t fathom that either. I like to know where I am going. I think I would get a lot of anxiety trying to think of what’s going to happen next each week, so you know hats off to them for being able to do that.

Lucid Dreaming (2018) #2 pg.13, by Rio Burton.

NG: As your story deals with dreams primarily, is there going to be – I don’t necessarily want to call it dimension hopping because it would be dreams - but will he be visiting different versions of the dream reality in the story? Or is it a stayed world when he goes to the dream place?

RB: It’s more like very quick clips and visions; snapshots of different scenes. I wanted it to not quite make sense because it doesn’t make sense to him, so it leaves you kind of questioning, "Ok what was the meaning behind that dream?" I just saw all these little snapshots and him trying to piece together what it means. And some of his dreams are flashbacks to his background story so you get an insight also into what drives him forward.

NG: Nice! If you were to classify this story, is it a fantasy, mystery, horror perhaps?

RB: A sci-fi drama.

NG: A sci-fi drama, very cool.

RB: Yeah.

NG: And just because it is the hot topic these days, could you ever see it transferring to other media or is this one comics only?

RB: I would love to see it transfer to other media. I would be fascinating to see especially if someone else was working on it - to see their take on it, what they take from the story and their vision. How they would envision his world. I would find that very interesting.

NG: It used to be such a pipe dream, you had Marvel and DC making movies in a void - but these days I have found there’s quite the well spring of little film start-ups just like there are little comic start-ups and a lot of them are looking at smaller indie comic projects to do short films on.  In the past year or two I have had several friends say "Some film company approached me and wanted to do a little short movie." It is happening more and more.

Enamel pins available from Rio Burton at Fort Collins Comic Con 2018.

RB: I think it’s great. I love it. I love all forms of storytelling.

NG: If you love all forms of storytelling, if I may go back just one step further, what inspired you to start writing? If you had started as an illustrator.

RB: I actually always loved writing, I just never went down that path because I saw myself as a concept artist for games. I got into that when I was little, playing Final Fantasy VII, going through the guidebook. I just loved all the character art and that’s what I wanted to do. I would develop these characters to go along with these stories I was writing in school, instead of doing my schoolwork. I just fell down the illustration path and didn’t really focus on writing so much. Now I’m veering back towards that passion. It’s just interesting to see where your life takes you.

NG: Yes ma’am, it sure is. Now that you have the writing bug again, would you ever consider moving yourself into a different medium? Do you have any interest in a novel or perhaps writing a script?

RB: I do. I actually have a novel in my head that I don’t know if I am ever going to get the opportunity to write, but I don’t see it as a comic. That is just kind of up on the shelf. I don’t know if I’ll ever touch it, but it interests me. I consume books and films.

NG: I have noticed a lot more novels springing up at comic cons. People obviously like the artistic aspect but novels are also selling here so…

RB: Yeah, and I think it is easier now because you can self-publish. More people are able to try and get themselves out there.

Variant Cover for The Liminal #2 done by Rio Burton.

NG: I know that CreateSpace has helped a lot of people out with the print-on-demand option. That is a cool thing that the industry is doing. I know that you are working on other comic projects that you can't talk about, so I won’t ask. Aside from those and Lucid Dreaming is there anything else on the horizon for you?

RB: Well so far, I just recently quit my second job and went into this full time. I have some savings set aside so that I can just focus on Lucid Dreaming. I really want to push myself and get that out there but as I have been working on it other opportunities have opened up in comics. So I am kind of juggling everything right now.

NG: Such as the variant cover you did for Dailen Ogden's book The Liminal?

RB: Yes! Dailen is such a sweetheart and hopefully by the end of the year we will be working on a comic together, she wants to write it and I will be doing the art. We are both very excited but trying not to get too excited right now, so we can focus on our other work.

NG: Yeah, got to get through the other projects first.

RB: Yes

NG: Cool. As a closing question for you - if people wanted to know more, if people wanted to find you online where do we look?

RB: You can look on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook those are the major ones. I am @RioBurtonArtist Twitter. On Instagram it’s just @rioburton and it’s Rio Burton Illustrator on Facebook, and I have a website

NG: Also, if people were to reach out to you, are you available for commissions?

RB: I am, yes. I have some information on my website concerning commissions. Feel free to reach out to me. Depending on my schedule, hopefully I can help you out.

NG: I think that about wraps it up for us, thank you for your time.

Rio Burton’s table banner at Fort Collins Comic Con 2018.

Rio Burton at Fort Collins Comic Con @018. (2)

Rio Burton at Fort Collins Comic Con @018. (2)

TOG + Rose by Rio Burton.

When Baked Things Attack Fort Collins Comic Con! - An Interview With Elisa Sargent & Laurissa Hughes

Written by Neil Greenaway

Elisa Sargent & Laurissa Hughes at Fort Collins Comic Con 2018. (1)

When a lovelorn chef makes a deal with Stan (the devil's-left-hand) and his pastries start coming out a little bit evil, its up to 11-year-old sleuths Lilly and Sol to save the day! If the premise of the new graphic novel - When Baked Things Attack from Elisa Sargent & Laurissa Hughes - does not grab you, the animatronic cupcake monsters they keep caged at their table definitely will! When the book debuted at Fort Collins Comic Con 2018, there was a throng of people gathered around their display and I heard several rave reviews from fellow artists at the show. I had to speak with the creators behind these catastrophe causing cake-monsters. The pair told me about how they got together for the book, the project's past (and possible future) in film, and what we can expect to see from them next.

When Baked Things Attack (2018) by Elisa Sargent & Laurissa Hughes.

Neil Greenaway: So first for Elisa, I understand that this idea started as a short film, is that correct?

Elisa Sargent: Yes, that is correct. It actually goes back to when I was hanging out with my younger brothers and they were having little battles, so I decided to calm everything down. We actually got the family camcorder and we made the movie When Baked Thing Attack. We used things like pillows and sheets and everything; we sort of taped up Nilla Wafers on fishing wire to the ceiling fan and flipped on the fan and it would come and smack you in the face. (laughs) So, we just made this goofy little thing and then I ended up going to film school. I’d been doing a lot of sewing; I was a seamstress from the time I was a child. But I was doing a lot of sewing for my brothers friends who went to film school and I eventually said, "I really want to go to film school". So I got a chance to formally write that up, and instead of the baked things coming from outer space it sort of morphed into a heart broken chef - sort of enchanting his culinary creations.

NG: And Laurissa, how did you get drafted in as the artist?

Laurissa Hughes: It was actually at Fort Collins last year and it’s a very strange story. I was standing talking to our friend Joe and then Elisa came over. She had a little Halloween monster (that I had drawn years ago) and she says, "Look I found this, some guy sold it to me!" That was my boyfriend - it was one of his favorite drawings, too. So she said, "I think I found the person that I want to do the comic!" I was standing right there, but she had no idea. Joe and her were talking about it and it was a very surreal experience. I was like, "Um, wait, that’s mine..." and so then we started talking about it.

NG: Very cool. How long have you guys been working together to get the book out?

When Baked Things Attack (2018) interior pg.23.

LH: Like seven or eight months.

ES: We started in January. We did a project plan and we decided that our start date was going to be January 1st and we just worked it out that July 15th was going to be the end date.

LH: Close to there, yeah. Then trying to get the inside cover and everything done took a little time.

NG: Now is this a standalone graphic novel or is this beginning of a series of stories?

ES: I think it is probably standalone. It could be fun to do other ones and I definitely want to explore it, there’s so many more places. But I don’t know if we could do it with film or you know we could do it with other media.

NG: Now that you have had the experience of seeing as a comic do you have any wish to make it a film still? Or are you happy with it as the graphic novel?

ES: Oh definitely, because there’s so many more things that go into it. Just the characters and personalities of each of the pastries as they come to life and become murderous. There’s so many more characteristics I definitely want to expand upon. Especially working with the automation of these puppets that have come about to do the promotion for the comic book. It’s actually been really inspiring because a lot of people have come together with some really unique skills that we weren't able to use the first time for the film.

NG: Noticing at your table that you have animatronic cupcake monsters, that is something most folks don’t have.

LH: They are so cute. I love them so much.

NG: They are an awesome attraction I would say. I have heard around the convention floor a couple people are saying (jokingly) that you ladies have no right at all making a first effort this strong together; that most teams take a little longer to coalesce. How do you feel about getting a positive reaction to the book?

LH: (Laughs) I think it’s awesome. My favorite thing in the world is to tell stories and to make people smile and to make people laugh. That’s why I went into – well I have been drawing forever, but when I decided to go to art school it was because I wanted to tell stories. So, getting a positive reaction to the story Elisa wrote and that I got to help bring to life is really cool. It makes me really happy.

NG: Now for you Elisa, this is your first published story correct?

ES: Mm-hmm.

NG: Do you see yourself moving forward in other comics?

The original “kaiju bunny” mural behind Mutiny Information Cafe, done by Daniel Crosier.

ES: Yes definitely. My boyfriend is Dan Crosier and he has wanted to do another comic, so we have devised another comic it’s called Stanley Kaiju and the Subterranean Bunny Defenders.

NG: (Laughs) Naturally, naturally.

ES: Yeah, it’s kind of where you go after pastries, subterranean bunnies.

LH: That feels like a natural progression.

NG: When you do that one, would you be writing, and Dan would be doing the art? Or would you guys be cowriting?

ES: I think we would be doing a little bit of cowriting. It kind of comes from a mural that he did on the back of Mutiny Café. It was something that we were talking about - trying to figure out a mural to do, bouncing ideas back and forth and Dan says, "How about a kid in a bunny costume?" So he ended up doing it and, the face on this kid is just weird! The story for it became this alien defender that was going to save the planet - he’s really little, he’s addicted to bananas, he grows really quickly and eats spacecraft out of the sky. He’s this ancient, genetically modified creature that is so terrifying to look at that they put him in a bunny outfit - which makes him cuter. (laughs) But that’s all down the road a bit. You are working on your other series, too. Are you on season 3?

Tess & Jack (2014) #1, by Laurissa Hughes.

NG: Yeah tell us a little about Tess & Jack.

LH: I have a comic called Tess & Jack.

NG: Tell us a little more about Tess & Jack (Laughs)

LH: Yeah, it’s about a cowgirl named Tess and a robot named Jack. They live in sort of a futuristic cyberpunk wild west and they take odd jobs to make a living. Each issue is a different job. Right now, I am about halfway through issue 3. I have it planned through issue six or seven. But they are just really like silly, out of the ordinary jobs. I like comedy. I like really sarcastic, crazy sci-fi stuff. The series actually started out as an illustration I did a long time ago for a show. Then I was thinking about redoing this illustration, and I thought, "I’m going to do it in a way that is different. I’m not going to do an illustration, I’m going to do it as a comic because that’s what I have been doing." Then it turned into a whole thing. But I really like doing it, it’s really fun.

NG: Aside from Tess and Jack do you have any other projects you are working on?

LH: Yeah, I have a longer project that I’ve been working on for about ten years, it’s been a long time. It’s sort of one of those magnum opus stories, is what everyone calls them. I was going to do it as a comic, but I am thinking I might do it as an illustrated novel - or maybe a series of a few. I think if I do it that way it will help me get it out quicker, and I’m having so much fun with Tess & Jack. Originally I was only going to go through issue 4 and stop to do my longer story, but now I think I want to keep doing Tess & Jack.

NG: Coming back to When Baked Things Attack: Elisa, you already had the story more or less in your mind - since you had been planning this short film and building animatronics and such. Did working with Laurissa add anything in terms of story elements? Were there things that changed along the way in your collaboration?

Killer cupcakes attacked their cages!

ES: Quite a bit. The spirit of collaboration changed things, because Laurissa came by the house and saw a lot of the props and she was able to just absorb it. She saw the props and the costumes and she just absorbed it automatically. The collaboration was just really inspiring, it made me want to do the movie even more because I had so many roadblocks before. I liked not only how the comic turned out in the end, but this collaborative process where you could just explain something briefly and to the point and she just got it and ran with it. So, it was that level of collaboration - and then getting something that is so magical straight off the bat was really encouraging.

LH: Thank you!

NG: Because it is printed, it has an ISBN, where can people buy it?

LH: Well we have an online store at, and several of the comic shops around Denver have agreed to carry it.

NG: Ok, awesome. On an individual level, if people wanted to find more of your work online where would they follow you personally?

ES: You can follow us on the When Baked Things Attack website or on the Facebook page. This is my first effort so that’s it for me, but Laurissa has a whole portfolio of comic books.

LH: I’m on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr and my user name is @WhimsyInk. Then Tess & Jack is at SmackJeeves, Topastic, and Webtoons. I also have a portfolio website which is

NG: All right I think that about wraps it up for us. Is there anything else about the comic that folks need to know?

LH: It’s fun and you should read it.

NG: I think that will do. Thank you ladies for your time.

When Baked Things Attack (2018) interior pg.24.

Elisa Sargent & Laurissa Hughes at Fort Collins Comic Con 2018. (2)

When Baked Things Attack (2018) interior pg.35.

Wolfman’s Got Nards! Andre Gower & Ryan Lambert at Denver Comic Con 2018

Written by Abrahm Akin

Andre Gower, Ryan Lambert, & Abrahm Akin sitting at Denver Comic Con 2018.

The Monster Squad movie poster, featuring art from Craig Nelson.

Thirty-one years before our interview began, it was a time of magic on the silver screen...

A time when Fred Dekkar, Shane Black and a small band of cast and crew conspired to fill the world with vampires and monsters… and save mankind from the box office tyranny of Beverly Hills Cop II

They Blew it.

On August 14th, 1987 The Monster Squad opened and immediately died a painful death. But like many creatures from the eighties, it would live again! The film was reanimated by home video, resurrected by foolish children and teens who saw it on HBO and fell victim to it’s undeniable (perhaps supernatural?) charm.

In the seemingly dormant years that followed, the film silently grew more powerful. Secretly, it spread from home to home - turning casual viewers into a cult of ravenous superfans. Then, as was revealed to me in this interview with Andre Gower and Ryan Lambert, The Monster Squad made a shocking public manifestation.

The true nature of the film’s power was revealed to the world, (and the people who made the damn thing) at a sold-out screening at the Alamo Drafthouse in Texas.

Now circumstance (and my friend Neil) have made me a harbinger for what comes next, and I warn you now to Be Afraid!

Stars of the original film have created a documentary detailing, from the fans perspective, what exactly it was about The Monster Squad that was so captivating. The movie is more popular today than ever before. This new documentary, perfectly named, Wolfman's Got Nards masterfully captures the enjoyable anecdotes of fans falling in love with a truly great movie, all the while enslaving you forever in its own monstrously appealing grip.

Final warning... Be Afraid! Then, stop being afraid and go see Wolfman’s Got Nards. I promise you’ll love it!

Andre Gower as Sean in The Monster Squad.

The following interview took place at Denver Comic Con 2018.

Abrahm Akin: Thank you very much for doing this. I am super excited and nervous, this is my first ever interview with any kind of movie star person.

Andre Gower: This is your first interview?

AA: My first interview. I do a podcast, so all of my people are comic people and things like that.

AG: And not within arm’s reach.

AA: What are we going to get with this new documentary?

AG: You know, you will probably get little bit of an emotional roller coaster ride maybe. The doc itself is really a look into why movies connect with people, why do things we love so much impact you so hard? Why would you like something when you are a kid or when you first find it, and why would it stay with you for 20, 30 years or longer? We also go into things like what are cult films? That has changed over time, that definition. Is this a cult film? Should it be a cult film? Should these be cult films? You know all those questions about fandom and why something that means so much to you for so much time can actually change your life. Or lead you down a path that you end up doing as your profession - which has happened with a lot of art or movies but especially with the Monster Squad. So, all these stories are told through the lens of Monster Squad fans. The inspiration for that really, sort of... You know, over the last 10 or 12 years there has been kind of this Monster Squad resurgence that Ryan and I and other cast members have got to enjoy being a part of. We hear all these great stories that fans come up and tell us - wearing a Steven King Rules shirt or wearing a Wolfman’s Got Nards shirt - coming up and telling these amazing stories about what it really means to them.

Andre Gower at Denver Comic Con 2018.

And that didn’t stop. It just kept going and getting stronger, more and more stories, and I really looked at that over the years. And about two summers ago I looked at it and said, those stories are the story. I want to tell those stories. Let’s turn the focus of this 30-year celebration around on the people that are the real reason, the only reason we’re still talking about this today is the fans. So, I kind of wanted to start with that story and then it grew out of that.

AA: Was there any missing footage or edited footage? Because there seems to be a story between the mom and dad that was never resolved. Was that something that got cut?

AG: In the original script? Yeah.

AA: Because there was a lot of tension there and I don’t feel like it worked its way out and even as a kid I was thinking like I feel like there’s something there that was unresolved.

AG: Well there is. I think there was a lot more in the original drafts of the scripts, even the shooting script was longer. It went much deeper into backstory and kind of foundational elements that Shane Black had in there that we didn’t shoot. So, there is a lot of that especially with the parents. There’s a lot of things that are set ups and some pay offs that you don’t get either or of or you don’t realize because it’s a really trimmed down script, it’s only an 82-minute movie, right? There was some cool stuff we were supposed to do in the original drafts that we didn’t get to do which were kind of fun.

AA: Like what?

AG: Just different scenes and more chases and like the "scary mansion" scene is much deeper and had more characters in it so it was good.

AA: Now my podcast focuses mostly on monsters, what is it like seeing those Stan Winston effects up close?

The monsters of  The Monster Squad .

The monsters of The Monster Squad.

Ryan Lambert: It was kind of scary. I mean you’re also surrounded by like another 100 people who are actually shooting the film.

AA: It takes the scare out of it?

RL: A little bit except for the fact that all the monsters kept to the character, all the actors stayed in character.

AA: Through the whole shoot?

RL: We never met that actual actors.

AA: Really?

RL: Yeah.

AG: Duncan and Tom they were their characters the whole time.

RL: We were sitting in the club house with Frankenstein’s Monster, it was Tom Noonan, but I never met Tom until, like, now.

AA: How did they get that dog up in the treehouse?

Ryan Lambert as Rudy in The Monster Squad.

AG: It was a scene that was shot that was cut. There was a dumbwaiter.

AA: Ok. Was the set actually on the ground?

RL: That part was not in the script. We shot it but because they didn’t show it. I had to do a voiceover later about how that dog got to there.

AA: It was funny because I was watching it again getting ready for this and I was like "how the hell do they get that dog up there?"

AG: We did shoot the scene where we are pulling him up there.

AA: I never understood that either, I never understood that line because he is a small dog someone could have carried him up he’s not that big.

AG: Yeah maybe, I don’t know.

RL: It’s cuter that he was in a little dumbwaiter.

AA: What has it been like having this in your life since you were a small kid?

Ryan Lambert at Denver Comic Con 2018.

RL: Well people don’t realize that in our lives, there was a big chunk of time where it wasn’t in our lives because we didn’t have it on VHS and watch it every day, you know what I mean? I made a film, it came out, it bombed, I went to work on something else and then I lived my life. Then in 2006 we did the Alamo Drafthouse screening and we walked in and I was like "What is this? You guys like this movie?" Seriously, it was a huge surprise. I had no idea this was going on at that time. So, to me - every once in a while, someone would come up to me and ask, "Were you in the Monster Squad?" And I’d be like "Yeah". That’s crazy, you know that?  But it wasn’t this, not at all. We didn’t go to conventions. That happened after 2006. So, from 1988 it kind of went away and died till 2006 it took off.

AA: (to Andre) Was it like that for you?

AG: Absolutely. It had a little following with people every once in a while because, you know, college and things like that. Everyone is the same age, and they would know it and recognize you or something. But as this kind of retro status, or nostalgia thing, or this cult status of this movie - that didn’t happen. It was almost disappeared for 19 years. We didn’t think anybody was really caring about this movie, but everybody was, just on their own. And you know when you’re in a movie or you make a movie and it comes out and it bombs in the movie theaters, it’s done. We didn’t really understand, because we weren’t in every video store in every neighborhood or in everyone’s house watching HBO that people were finding this movie over time and latching on to it. Two thirds of the overall Monster Squad audience or like 85% of the Monster Squad audience first saw this movie on HBO or at their local video store.

RL: Yeah, I would go to the video store to pick up some movies. I’d walk along, and I’d see it and go yeah, there it is, they have it. But little did I know that people were renting it every weekend.

AG: Or that people were stealing it from their local video store and holding onto it until 2006 and then for the last 10 or 12 years it’s just been bonkers fandom like this which is amazing.

Andre Gower & Ryan Lambert at Denver Comic Con 2018.

AA: That’s so interesting.

AG: It’s this whole new thing. The last 10 years has been a completely eye-opening world in getting to deal with these amazing Monster Squad fans. When we first started doing this we always kind of talked about it that we thought it would kind of peter out and wane after about a year or two, but it hasn’t stopped. It’s only going up or getting deeper because now there’s second generation Monster Squad fans. Parents showed their kids and now it’s their favorite movie. Not a lot of titles get that.

AA: It’s truly a good movie and it’s surprising to hear that it played out like that. Because when I was a kid, the neighbors had it on VHS (just that they recorded off HBO) and we watched it all the time. We even acted it out. Everyone was kicked in the nards and said ‘wolfman’s got nards’. I had it in my head that after he got booted, he howled - because we would always play that out and somebody would howl. But he doesn’t in the movie. He never did that.

AG: No, he didn’t.

AA: He was just like ‘ugh!’ (acts it out).

Andre Gower, Ryan Lambert, & Abrahm Akin at Denver Comic Con 2018.

AG: That was very good by the way.

AA: It’s just so funny because I always just assumed that it was popular everywhere, but I guess not.

AG: You know you aren’t the only one who says that. There’s a couple people who say that in the documentary like, "Hey when I saw this movie, my theater was actually full". Not me, but saying this as people we talked to. They were saying "I grew up in like Springfield, MA or Long Island, my theater was full and I loved this movie, so I thought it was huge hit." and, "When I was a kid I didn’t read the newspaper so I was like why wasn’t this movie in this theater again next weekend, it’s gone". They just thought it was always a movie that was big because they loved it and it was huge to them so they thought it was a hit and they grew up and they were like wait, this movie wasn’t a hit? And it’s no, this movie absolutely bombed.

AA: That answers some of my questions because I was going to ask why there wasn’t a sequel or a series.

AG: Because it absolutely bombed (laughs). All that stuff is lined up forever. In Hollywood it’s always, you know, as soon as everything is geared up and prepped to go if it hits - like merchandise and ancillary income and these other revenue streams for the studio and sequel ideas and things like that in case your movie opens and is big - they are ready to strike while it shows. And then they were like, "ahh, ok moving on".

A movie poster for Wolfman’s Got Nards: A Documentary.

Neil Greenaway: I want to cut in for a few seconds, we are running a little short on time, can you guys talk about the release of the new movie?

AG: Yeah sure. Right now, Wolfman’s Got Nards: A Documentary is enjoying an awesome festival run. We will probably run through October/November on the festival circuit. So, if you are in a town that has a great festival, or you want it in your festival let them know because that is what is happening now. People are calling their festivals and they’re contacting us. My team at Pilgrim Studios and 1620 Media that I made this movie with, you know, really put a lot of work into it. Now we are enjoying that aspect of the second phase of this - being done and people getting to see it - and we are screening it tonight here at Denver Comic Con at 6 o’clock. So, if it’s in your local festival, we’re trying to do another Alamo Drafthouse tour run here as a little exclusive event. If you have a film society in your local town that wants us to come and do a one-off event, let us know. We will bring it. As soon as the festival run is over we’ll have some sort of distribution planned. I see it first that there is a tangible media, a physical media component to this documentary - which is odd with a documentary, right? But I think that’s going to go on the shelf next to everybody’s Monster Squad stuff. Almost more than anything else this doc is "about the fans, for the fans, with the fans in it", but everybody is going to relate to everybody in it so nobody is really different. Everybody is the same, and even the celebrities and the big time producers that you see in this documentary - just because those celebrities are names, they were Monster Squad fans, too. So everybody is great in this. There is a lot of emotion in this documentary, it’s all real and it’s not instructional or educational, it’s told as like a narrative story and that takes a lot of work. The guys did great work on that, to really bring you through this story told by these fans about the impact and the connection that they have with it.

AA: You get to enjoy that enthusiasm that wasn’t there when it came out.

Andre Gower at Denver Comic Con 208.

AG: Oh yeah, it’s interesting too when you do a retro screening of Monster Squad and the house is packed with people spilling out, or you know we have had sold out festival screenings of this documentary which is awesome because that’s what you want as a filmmaker. But it’s like, yeah ok, here it is, this is awesome.

NG: That’s our time.

AG: That was our time? Well how was your first time?

AA: It was wonderful. You guys are very cool.

AG: It didn’t seem like your first time you totally rocked it out dude!

AA: Well I have done the podcast thing, but I could ask you questions all day.

You can learn more about Wolfman’s Got Nards: A Documentary at the film's website.

Abrahm Akin hosts a horror movie themed podcast called Meet Your Monsters. The Monster Squad was the subject of his third episode - way back in 2015. You can listen to that (slightly NSFW) episode here.

Andre Gower & Ryan Lambert congratulate Abrahm Akin on an interview well done! Denver Comic Con 2018.

Illustration With Style, Inspired By Family - An Interview With Sarah Menzel (Denver Comic Con 2018)

Written by Mary Andreski

Sarah Menzel at Denver Comic Con 2018.

Sarah Menzel at Denver Comic Con 2018.

Sarah Menzel is a Colorado-based illustrator, colorist, and storyboard artist whose credits include storyboarding Imaginext Adventures cartoons, creating art assets for a video game, and animating short films - and all of that on top of an offering of beautifully colored illustrative art pieces. When Nerd Team 30 caught up with her at the 2018 Denver Comic Con earlier this year, Sarah was kind enough to take some time and talk about her inspirations and how she got started on the convention circuit.

Art by Sarah Menzel.

Mary Andreski: Today I will be speaking with Sarah Menzel. She is a local Colorado artist and I will let her introduce herself the rest of the way.

Sarah Menzel: I am a local illustrator and comic colorist. I do a lot of whimsical illustrations and dabble in a lot of things. For example I’ve created a 'zine recently, I really enjoy coloring comics, I helped out with Ben Worrell's Sheath series. I do mostly digital art so most of my paintings are done in photoshop and I like to draw digitally a lot but I do dabble in traditional mediums as well.

MA: So what got you started on the artists path?

SM: When I was maybe about 6 years old my grandmother lived with us for the longest time. She was an artist and she would always draw with me, that is an activity that we would do together. She was a really good artist and I was so inspired by he way she drew things. I have this memory of her - we were playing with an Etch-a-Sketch and she drew this beautiful princess dress with it and I really wanted to learn how to do that. So I wanted to draw pretty princess dresses I guess.

MA: It sounds like she was an inspiration for you as far as art. Is there anyone in the art field that has been particularly inspiring as far as style or who you look up to?

Art by Sarah Menzel.

SM: Yes, there are a lot of artists that I look up to. Most recently I’ve been looking at a lot of Mobius. He was a French Comic book artist and illustrator. I really love his stuff. I also really enjoy Loish. She’s a digital painter that draws beautiful ladies with really colorful hair. She just has a really nice use of color in her work. I love to color, sometimes I like to color more than I like to draw. So I always am noticing really good use of color.

MA: Those being some of your personal favorites in the art world is there anyone in actual life who's inspired you (not necessarily in art) to be the person you are?

SM: I think my mom has inspired me the most. She’s a really hard worker. I always really looked up to her personality, she’s a very strong woman who always was the breadwinner in our household. So she never really let anyone take care of her. I really like that idea, even though I’m an artist - I can do things myself. I can take initiative and be someone who supports myself despite being an artist, I guess. It’s really important for me to be a self sustaining person. So I always looked up to her because she was able to do that on her own. I always want to be the type of person who can be independent and do anything I want to do in life. That’s where I get that part of myself and my stubborn streak.

MA: Your artistic style, which appears to be unique from what Ive seen, how did you get into comic conventions and that realm? What inspired you to do that?

Art by Sarah Menzel.

SM: I actually used to do fan art quite a bit. I eventually realized that I didn’t put as much time or energy into those pieces as I did into my personal pieces. I thought, what’s the point in doing that if I’m not putting my whole heart into the work that I’m doing? So I decided to cut out those works and keep doing what I was spending the most time on, which was my personal pieces. Those were things that I liked so I gravitated to them anyway.

I first started doing conventions, actually my first convention was when I was 15, it was NDK (Nan Desu Kan). Way back when it was in the DTC area. It was actually really easy to get into that artist alley at that point. That was my first convention. I think I only had about 5 prints and I was sharing it with a friend and it was really bad. That was how I started and I got the feel for it after that. I went to conventions with friends from college and I would try to do local conventions in Colorado when I could. I started liking to sell my work and it was one of the platforms you can actually make money selling your own work, rather than sometimes online where it can be hard to promote that type of thing. I’m not very good at social media either so doing a stand in a place where people actually go works better for me.

MA: Where can people find you? Social media, or conventions coming up?

SM: The next convention I am doing is NDK 2018. You can find my work at or you can follow me on Instragram @cacoon_garden. That’s where I am most active and the best way to follow my work.

MA: Thank you so much for your time.

SM: Thanks

Art by Sarah Menzel.

Art by Sarah Menzel.

Art by Sarah Menzel.

[UPDATE] What the Future Holds: An Interview With Nichelle Nichols (Wizard World Des Moines 2018)

Written by R. Alan Brooks

[This article has been updated to include a video copy of the interview with Ms. Nichols.]

Nichelle Nichols.

Nichelle Nichols.

If you’ve ever imagined the future, chances are, your vision of that future has been influenced in some way by Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry’s 1960s space-traveling television show. Although it’s spawned a number of offspring, the original series has been credited with an array of cultural achievements, from inspiring the design of flip-phones, to featuring the first interracial kiss on television.

The original series presented a multi-ethnic cast, in a time when that didn’t exist on television, and barreled head-first into such explosive topics as war, racism and sexism (even as its women characters sported mini-skirts- it could be argued that Roddenberry’s wasn’t a perfect vision of the future. But few could assert that it wasn’t trying to be).

But that momentous kiss: the significance of that moment can’t be understated.

We often hear from one of the participants of that kiss, William Shatner, who is often parodied for his large personality and distinct manner of speech, and who was also the actor who played Captain Kirk. But the other historical smoocher was Nichelle Nichols, who played the steadfast Lieutenant Uhura on the show.

Lt. Uhura and Captain Kirk share an embrace, and a kiss.

Nichelle, now 85 years old, graciously gave me a moment of her time for a conversation at this year’s Wizard World Comic Con in Des Moines, IA. She was, as I expected, full of grace- almost floating into the convention center upon a cloud of regality. But she surprised me with her sense of humor.

After I thanked her for granting me the interview, and joked with her about her role in the Blaxploitation flick Truck Turner, we talked about a friend of mine, a jazz drummer who’d gone to high school with her. Eventually, I swallowed my nervousness, and asked her some questions, to which she gave friendly responses.

R. Alan: So, you’ve done Star Trek and you’ve been in this geek world for a long time. One of the significant things to me, as a black child going to these conventions, was that there were no other black people. I couldn’t even buy black Vulcan ears when I was a kid.

Nichelle Nichols: No kidding?

R. Alan Brooks  with  Nichelle Nichols  at Wizard World Des Moines 2018.

R. Alan Brooks with Nichelle Nichols at Wizard World Des Moines 2018.

R: But now it’s changed, so it’s great to see. As you look back over your career and all the things you’ve been able to do, what are some of the most important things that stand out to you?

NN: I think all of it is. Everything. Because I meet new people all of the time. Everybody has a different light. I’m fascinated with what a lot of people do, because I know what I do, and it’s fascinating to people (too). What I like about meeting so many people is that you find out all the different things that are out there that people do for a living. For real. And I like that. I like sharing with them. They tell me what they do, and I go, “Aha!” And then they want to know what I do; all about where I come from, and so forth. Where I’m coming from. And so we all- both sides - get to say, “Aha!” [laughing]

R: With the new Star Trek series, with a black woman as the lead…

NN: I haven’t seen it yet. Who is it?

R: She’s from The Walking Dead, Sonequa Martin-Green, and it’s called Star Trek: Discovery.

NN: Oh yes! I’ve heard of it!

R: For you, starring in the original with Roddenberry, and just being able to sort of pioneer... and now we have a black woman leading the new Star Trek, it’s kind of an amazing thing.

NN: Yeah, I think it’s wonderful, because you don’t just keep doing it like that. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. [Motions with her hands to signify repetition]

R: Ha, that reminds me, I read years ago that you put out an album.

NN: Yeah.

Nichelle Nichols  as  Lt. Uhura  in Star Trek.

Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura in Star Trek.

R: Cuz I know everybody from the cast was doing that back then. I’ve never been able to find your album.

NN: I don’t know where it is. Probably at home. [laughs]

R: [laughs] What kind of music was it?

NN: I do all kinds of music. So I don’t know which one you’re talking about.

R: So you did a few?

NN: Yeah.

R: Ok. Do you still sing when you have an opportunity?

NN: Do you still breathe? [laughs]

R: [laughs] I hear you. It’s a big part of you.

NN: Oh yes, yes!

R: Well, I was wondering, because the guy that we know in common is Eugene Bass, he’s the jazz drummer. So I met him when he was 75. He was still playing drums in Denver. Yeah, he’s probably 82 now...

NN: You never stop. Unless you want to. I take off some time and go thatta-way. But it always takes me back to what I love, and this is that: doing what I do. I love it. And I’m happy with it.

R. Alan Brooks  talking with  Nichelle Nichols  at Wizard World Des Moines 2018.

R. Alan Brooks talking with Nichelle Nichols at Wizard World Des Moines 2018.

R: I’m glad to hear that.

NN: I am, too! [laughs]

R: Is there anything new that you’re working on that you want to discuss?

NN: Yeah, but I can’t talk about it yet. [laughs]

R: Well, that’s good stuff. Top secret. [laughs]

NN: Ha, well, it’s not so much that it’s top secret, as it’s not yet going where I want it to go. I’m thinking of doing a few things that I haven’t done yet. And a few things that people are bugging me for. [laughs]

R: So we’ll keep an eye out. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I really appreciate it.

NN: The pleasure’s mine.

You can check out some of Nichelle Nichols’ music here:

This interview was made possible by a collaboration between Nerd Team 30 and R. Alan Brooks’s podcast: Comics & Activism: MFIAC- The Social Justice Geek podcast. For the audio version of this interview, plus some additional portions not included in this article, click on the link and keep an eye out for the next episode of Comics & Activism: MFIAC- The Social Justice Geek podcast.


R. Alan Brooks

Raised in Atlanta and now a Denver resident, Alan is a writer, musician and host of the popular “Mother F**ker In A Cape” comics podcast, which interviews marginalized members of the geek world. Alan writes educational children’s comics and “The Adventures of Captain Colorado” for Pop Culture Classroom (the non-profit that stages Denver Comic Con). He is the writer and creator of “The Burning Metronome”, a supernatural murder mystery graphic novel.

Magic & Mystery In the World of The Liminal - An Interview With Dailen Ogden (Phoenix Comic Fest 2018)

Written by Neil Greenaway

Dailen Ogden at the 2018 Phoenix Comic Fest. (1)

When you see Dailen Ogden's art, you are almost certain to stop and have a closer look. Her pieces have a naturalistic fluidity to them that is hard to quantify, but it is her masterful use color that really makes her work stand out from the crowd. Before I had met Dailen at the 2018 Phoenix Comic Fest, several friends had already told me that I needed to seek out a copy of her self-published comic, The Liminal #1.

The Liminal (written and drawn by Ogden) is a story about Taylor Holt - a paranormal investigator with a weird eye and a ghost for a roommate. She gets migraine headaches and helps stranded mermen. In a world where magic is just as real as technology, Taylor is just trying to get by.

Dailen was kind enough to take a few minutes away from her table to tell me a little bit about her new series, the learning curve she went through creating a new comic, and what the future holds for The Liminal!

The Liminal (2018) #1 by Dailen Ogden.

Neil Greenaway: Can we start off by having you tell us a little bit about The Liminal?

Dailen Ogden: It’s a comic that when I pitch it to customers I basically say that it’s Jessica Jones meets Sailor Moon in the unending horror of the void.

NG: At the very least, the premise sounds unique.

Dailen: So definitely magic, bright colors, and blood. The actual premise is that of a mystery/thriller: set in the backdrop of a world where 25 years ago they cracked open a mountain and found an artifact that introduced magic to the people. Flash forward to the modern day - magic and the internet have both filtered into the cultural world consciousness in the same way, or in similar fashions. They are both a big part of worlds both developing and developed, and there’s all kinds of weird spooky mysteries going on.

NG: Is there a central mystery? Is there some plot to be solved?

Dailen: Yeah there is. It’s only very lightly teased on in the first issue, but if you are the kind of person who will read little captions and look for little details in the background - then it will come as a little less of a surprise to you later when more chapters start to release.

NG: Intriguing! Now, is The Liminal your first book or had you put out other comics before this one?

Dailen: I’ve never put out a book before this. I’ve done a little bit of like contract work on a couple of comics for Pop Culture Classroom, their Colorful History comic series - but this is the very first book that I am completely at the helm.

NG: Very cool. With you being the only one working on this, how long did it take you to put this issue together?

The Liminal (2018) #1, pg.6 - by Dailen Ogden.

Dailen: A really freaking long time, let me tell you. It’s taught me a lot and it’s given me a major appreciation of why most comics are done with a four-person team. There are a lot of things that go into it, a lot of working parts in comics. Even though they take you a very short amount of time to consume, to make them correctly takes a long time. A big part of comics is that if you are doing your job right people won’t even notice you. I’ve learned a lot about those things through this process.

NG: Are you also doing the coloring and the lettering?

Dailen: I am, everything. Design work, too, for the book. The logo is mine. All of it.

NG: When you do all the art for this, are you working digitally or traditionally?

Dailen: A little bit of both. For The Liminal I tend to mostly work digitally but for other comics I’ve worked traditionally as well. It’s just whatever strikes my fancy.

NG: There has been a bit of a resurgence lately of people hand lettering their comics. Are you doing traditional or digital lettering?

Dailen: I am doing digital lettering. I have very abysmal handwriting. As much as I would love to hand letter comics in the future, I really need to work on my lettering skills first. It would have to be up to my standards before I would include it in a book. In the meantime I am using Blambot Fonts. Nate Piekos, he has very courteously put his fonts out for free for smalltime freelancers and people who are self-publishing. He has made his work readily available as a resource for people like me who can’t hand letter for anything.

NG: I was just talking to Ed Piskor, who does Hip Hop Family Tree, and he said he spent 12 years teaching himself to hand letter only to realize that the computer still did it better.

Some of the prints available from Dailen Ogden at Phoenix Comic Fest 2018.

Dailen: Ouch.

NG: Yeah that’s got to be a hard pill to swallow.

Dailen: (winces) Youch, I feel that in my soul.

NG: Going back to The Liminal a little bit, how far forward have you planned it? Is it a 6-issue miniseries, is this a universe?

Dailen: I have a 3-arc story planned. It will probably be 3 volumes. I don’t know – the volume lengths are a little bit indeterminate at this point but it’s definitely going to be a full-length feature rather than a novella or a miniseries. I don’t have it quite mapped out enough to tell you the exact page count incoming, just to say that there’s going to be 3 major arcs that I want to split up into volumes.

NG: Do you know where it ends?

Dailen: Absolutely.

NG: So, it’s just the middle stuff that is missing at this point?

Colorful History #20: Red Rocks pg.1 - Written by R. Alan Brooks, Art from Dailen Ogden.

Colorful History #20: Red Rocks pg.1 - Written by R. Alan Brooks, Art from Dailen Ogden.

Dailen: Yeah just a little bit. It’s interesting because beginnings and endings are the most important parts sort of the story. Those are like the buildup and the resolution, but those middle parts need to be gracefully done and I find that to be the most challenging part of any story that I tell. It’s like, I have this really cool climax and ending figured out - but how do I get from point A all the way to point B?

NG: Given how long it took you to put the first issue together by yourself, in the future would you like to work with a team? Or do you feel it’s important to keep this story to yourself?

Dailen: You know, I love working with teams on other comics, but this one is kind of my baby. It’s not that wouldn’t trust anyone else with it, but I wouldn’t want to burden anyone else with it. It’s definitely very much my experimental foray into all of these things and so on top of being very much my story to tell, it’s also my avenue to practice all of these techniques. That said, R. Alan Brooks did write me a guest script that will be coming out in a couple of issues. I have a little more character and plot build up to do first, just because his script contains a pretty important reveal, but I am very interested in bringing in talent. Rather than having a team work with me on the full comic itself, I’m really interested in bringing in guest creators and things like that. I really love the idea of variant covers for my book. So, it’s not so much that I want to be a lone wolf as much as I need the practice on these things. But I am interested in seeing other people’s contributions as well.

NG: If other people wanted to contribute, which would be more important for you to maintain control of: the art or the authorship?

Dailen: Probably the authorship for the most part. The nice thing about Alan’s script is that we sat down and had a long, really thorough conversation about where the comic is going, what the world looks like and how it functions. When he wrote something for me it was sort of like getting to read a script that I had written myself but had forgotten about, where it was very exciting because it fit in really well. But definitely maintaining the authorship is the most important part for me because I have a very clear idea of where this is going and what story I am trying to accomplish. I do like seeing other people’s contributions to it. I need control over the main cannon, the main storyline - but other people bring really interesting things to the table.

Colorful History #20: Red Rocks pg.1 - Written by R. Alan Brooks, Art from Dailen Ogden.

NG: Did going through the production process on the first book give you any insights that will help with future issues?

Dailen: Yes! So much, absolutely. I have a much more consistent coloring scheme down, like a real strategy. I have learned a lot since then making sequential pages for other people also, so I do feel like issue 2 is going to happen at a much more reasonable pace. Now I have a very clear idea of what kind of formatting I need, what kind of files I need to export, where I send them, how I organize them. All of those things were very much kind of a shot in the dark learning process in the first issue, and so it should go much much more smoothly the second time around.

NG: When you put The Liminal #1 out, did you do any kind of crowdfunding for that?

Dailen: No. I backed it myself.

NG: Wow.

Dailen: Yeah, it cost a lot.

NG: I have to imagine.

Dailen: I did The Liminal myself. Entirely. I didn’t really know that much about comic printing. I didn’t know what the quality would be like, and I am always a little afraid to put something out to a crowd if I can’t guarantee it’s a good product. So, for the first one, I did fund it for myself. I’m actually funding a second run myself, too, but with a different printer. We will see what happens.

NG: That was actually going to be my next question - Are you looking at crowdfunding at all for the future of The Liminal? Having felt the financial burden of self-publishing the first print, why not look at something like Kickstarter for the next one?

The Liminal (2018) #1, pg.12 - by Dailen Ogden.

Dailen: I guess it’s one of those things, with crowdfunding and things like Kickstarter - I always feel put off by the fact that it doesn’t go all the way through if you don’t make your goal. And I’m still a little bit low in terms of social media reach. I guess what it comes down to is at this current point in time I’m not sure that I trust crowdfunding to get it done for me. With that said, for some of my upcoming books and probably for the next few issues of The Liminal - I will likely take preorders to help offset some of the costs. That is something that I do with my enamel pins and with some of my other prints, but I know and trust where they come from. Preordering is probably going to be the way to go for me in the future rather than crowdfunding, and let the crowd sort of help me with it but not relying on them entirely to get it paid for.

NG: Speaking of your enamel pins, you have some really cool designs. Are these all your designs as well?

Dailen: They are.

NG: And who do you go through to have those done?

Dailen: I actually have a relationship with a factory out of China.

NG: Nice.

Dailen: Yeah, it’s a pretty good time. People are a little bit secretive about their sources for that kind of thing because sometimes if a source gets overloaded the quality dips strongly. So I won’t mention their name in the interview, but I do like them very much and I think they are lovely people and I like working with them.

Some of the enamel pins available from Dailen Ogden at Phoenix Comic Fest 2018.

NG: If people want to see more of you or find more of your work where would they look online to do so?

Dailen: Well I am Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram and that’s where you can get a really nice tasty look at my personality but you would find all of those links at

NG: Thank you very much for your time.

You can also purchase prints, pins, stickers and more at Dailen's Etsy store!

Dailen Ogden at the 2018 Phoenix Comic Fest. (2)

Illustration Takes A Fashionable Turn - An Interview With Kelsi Jo Silva (Phoenix Comic Fest 2018)

Written by Neil Greenaway

Kelsi Jo Silva at Phoenix Comic Fest 2018. (1)

Even though Kelsi Jo Silva has been working as a professional illustrator in Denver (my home town) since 2014, I had never had the pleasure of seeing her work before we met a few months ago at the 2018 Phoenix Comic Fest. A mutual friend had recommended her art to me, and he was right. I was taken in by the soft curves and the bold use of color.

Having already accrued an impressive list of credits (including illustrating three children’s books for Good Luck Black Cat Books), Kelsi Jo has set her sights on writing and illustrating her own creator-owned comics. She has two major comics projects in production and was able to take a few moments away from her busy convention table to speak with me about both of them.

Mermaids by Kelsi Jo Silva.

Neil Greenaway: Can you start us out by giving us just a brief overview of what your upcoming comic project will be?

Kelsi Jo Silva: I am working on several projects right now. I am working on one with a writer, Sid Mulholland. It has a lot of Greek mythology vibes or Greek philosophy vibes more so. It’s about a girl coming of age who finds out that she has the ability to alter reality, so that’s what I am working on with him right now. Then I have my own comic project, which is about a witch who has a curse that has been placed on her and now all her internal emotions show on the outside of her body in the form of things like blisters and bruises. The story will show how she is dealing with that internal conflict that has become now an external conflict.

NG: So, is that one going to be completely you? Art, Writing, Color, all that?

KJS: Yes

NG: Ok now when you do something like that all alone, are you going traditional or digital?

KJS: It’s going to be all digital.

NG: Do you work with traditional art at all?

KJS: I do traditional sketches but if I am going to do a finished piece it is going to be digital.

NG: Is it just easier to work with?

KJS: It’s easier to translate, it’s easier to work with clients, it’s all just easier. It’s all in one place and you don’t have to deal with the paper or spilling your ink on things.

Some of the art available from Kelsi Jo Silva at the 2018 Phoenix Comic Fest.

NG: Are you already working on both of these books (the Greek philosophy and the cursed witch)?

KJS: Yes

NG: Would you be putting these out traditionally when they are finished or would you look at a crowd-funding model? What is your distribution going to look like?

KJS: I know that Sid wants to look at publishers, so that’s probably what we are going to do as a team. For my own comic I’m not 100% sure how I want to do it. I know it’s important to me that it be in print at some point and I also know that it is going to be in some digital format.

NG: So, perhaps released first as a web comic?

KJS: I’m thinking about it. I am teetering on it. I haven’t quite settled. I know that Webtoons a really good location for it. I’m struggling with the idea of having that vertical format and also having it in a print format. So, the idea of taking my print pages - because that is more important to me - and turning them into a vertical scrolling format is daunting. (laughs) It’s a lot of work.

NG: If you were going to try and do it as a web comic, would you finish the book first and then release a page a week (or something like that)? Or would you try to release the pages as you finished them?

A one-page comic from Kelsi Jo Silva.

KJS: I think I would start with the first book and then release the pages one at a time and see where I’m at from there.

NG: And what kind of timeline do you have on these books? Or is it still completely theoretical?

KJS: For the pitch with Sid, I should be done with that by the end of the week. We are looking at publishers now and looking at putting together our pitch packet, so whether or not we get picked up is where that timeline is. For my own comic it’s kind of theoretical. I’m still in the process of designing and writing.

NG: How did you get your start in the art world? How did you get into working on comics?

KJS: I went to RMCAD so I have a degree in illustration. When I graduated I did a couple of children’s books, so I have 3 children’s books out right now, and I decided that I wanted to do something that’s a little more adult. I really like drawing fashion and clothes and you really don’t get a lot of that with children’s books. You draw a lot of animals and flowers - and that’s nice, but I like drawing fashionable young ladies.

NG: Can you tell me a little bit about the children's books that you've done?

KJS: I worked with an author - a lady named Niki Knaub who owns the Good Luck Black Cat publishing house, and we’ve done 3 books. They’re about a little black cat named Ela. We’ve got Ela Cat in the Jungle, which was our first book. Then we did Ela Cat at the Beach and then Ela Cat in the Mountains which is the one that I finished earlier this year.

Ela Cat In the Jungle - Written by Niki Knaub, Illustrated by Kelsi Jo Silva.

Ela Cat At the Beach - Written by Niki Knaub, Illustrated by Kelsi Jo Silva.

Ela Cat In the Mountains - Written by Niki Knaub, Illustrated by Kelsi Jo Silva.

NG: You said you wanted to work more with more fashionable things, have you done any fashion design or fashion illustration?

KJS: I have not done any fashion illustration but my mom has her degree in fashion design, so it’s kind of been a part of my life for my entire life.

NG: Was she in clothing design then?

Enamel Pins, Stickers, pencil cases & prints from Kelsi Jo Silva at Phoenix Comic Fest 2018.

KJS: She did yeah, she worked as a pattern maker for a really long time.

NG: growing up, did she teach you any of that? Did you pick anything up from her?

KJS: I think it has been an influence. I’ve done a lot of sewing, I know how to sew pretty well. Drawing clothes is just something that I have done. Like it’s just a part of it.

NG: With her having that background, is she pleased to see you moving forward artistically as well?

KJS: She is, yeah.

NG: That’s cool.

KJS: I’m very grateful for it because I don’t think a lot people have that. She has this attitude that if you do what you love, then success is going to follow you. She didn’t have that from her parents. She had tried to go to school for business at first, and it didn’t work out for her and she dropped out. Then she went back for fashion design and was top of her class. So, she has this attitude that’s like "you need to do what you love to do".

A print available from Kelsi Jo Silva.

NG: If these books are just still being worked on, your first comics, how long have you been doing the convention circuit?

KJS: My first convention was Denver Comic Con in 2014 and I only did the one that year. The following year I think I did 3 of them, but last year was when I started really diving into the convention circuit.

NG: Have you done Phoenix Comic Con before?

KJS: I did Phoenix last year, yeah.

NG: It seems a little slow this year.

KJS: I was up on the 3rd floor last year, so it’s been less slow than it was for me last year. I have heard that it is slow from a lot of the other vendors, but I don’t see it. I saw like half the amount of people when I was upstairs.

NG: You are having a good weekend here, then?

KJS: I am, yeah.

NG: Nice. That is good to hear. One more question for you before we close out, if people want to find more of you, or follow your work where would they go online?

KJS: They can find me at I am also on Instagram, twitter, Tumblr, & Facebook.

NG: Ok, thank you very much for your time

Kelsi Jo Silva at Phoenix Comic Fest 2018. (1)

Morgan Beem - Turning Watercolors Into The Family Trade (Phoenix Comic Fest 2018)

Written by Neil Greenaway

Morgan Beem at Phoenix Comic Fest 2018.

Morgan Beem at Phoenix Comic Fest 2018.

With her first published work in comics making its debut in 2013, Morgan Beem is still fairly new to the industry. In the five years since then she has made quite a splash at Image Comics, with her watercolors appearing in titles like Shutter and Goners. She really came into her own last year as the cover and interior artist for The Family Trade - a book following the story of a young woman rising through a network of thieves and con-men on a floating, ocean-borne city. When I caught up with Morgan at the 2018 Phoenix Comic Fest she was kind enough to take a few minutes away from the convention to discuss her work. We talked about The Family Trade (the trade paperback had just released), as well as some new projects that she has in the works from Image and Webtoons. This was the first time I had spoken with Morgan, and I am glad that I did. Her work is beautiful and I can not wait to see where it takes her next!

The Family Trade (2017) #3, cover by Morgan Beem. 

Neil Greenaway: Let’s start off assuming that the readers don’t know anything about you. I know that you have been working on The Family Trade, what else can you tell us about yourself?

Morgan Beem: I am a comic artist and illustrator, and I use traditional media. So I watercolor all over the comics! (laughs) I am the interior and cover artist for the Image book The Family Trade, which is a fantasy/action/adventure book. It’s very fun. It’s written by Justin Jordan and Nikki Ryan and lettered by the wonderful Rachel Deering, so it’s a pretty good book.

NG: Now I know that the Family Trade trade just came out (which is fun to say). Is the series still moving forward?

MB: You know, I think we are going to have a meeting here soon to talk about it. I think we are going to do a volume two - but we want to go straight to a graphic novel and not do the single issues.

NG: Ok. What length would you guys be looking at for a GN?

MB: Probably about the same as the first one - which was one hundred something pages, one hundred and fifty pages maybe - somewhere around there.

NG: So, a five or six-issue equivalent?

MB: Yeah, 5 or 6 issue equivalent probably.

NG: Nice. Now aside from The Family Trade do you have any personal books that you are working?

MB: So, I have a lot of things that I am working on.  Not necessarily ones that are just myself, I'm still working as part of a team. I have a Webtoons series that is up and coming with writer Ryan Cady that should be pretty fun. I don’t know how much I am allowed to tell you about it right now, but it will be horror based and I am pretty excited about that. It should be out probably early next year.

An interior page from The Family Trade. Art by Morgan Beem. (1)

NG: I will be intrigued to see your art in a horror based story.

MB: Yeah, I really actually like creepy fairy tales, they’re sort of like my main jam so…

NG: Nice!

MB: I’m pretty excited about it. And then I have another graphic novel coming out from Image with writer Jacob Semahn that was called HERE//after. It will again go straight to graphic novel format. And that one is a really great story. It’s kind of like... I want to say a slice of life comic with supernatural elements to it. It has ghosts, but it’s not really a ghost story. It’s kind of a personal adventure story. You follow a character as she explores who she is, dealing with grief and not being ok with the unknown. It’s kind of a personal and moving book, so I am pretty excited about that one.

NG: That sounds awesome! How did you come to work at Image? How did you break in there?

MB: Writers (laughs). Yeah one of the great things about comics is that it is a pretty small, close-knit community and everybody’s pretty rad. So just going to shows like this, networking, and working with other people, you just start to meet writers. Then they say, "Hey I have this book idea, I think your art would be great. Do you want to work on it?" It worked like that for both HERE//after and The Family Trade. Justin Jordan is a pretty well-established writer with Image and Jacob has also published with them a couple of times, so they both have a pretty good relationship with that publishing company. They pitched the book and Image said yeah, and that’s where we are at.

NG: I find that while I'm walking around and talking to people, your name is one I hear a lot. Specifically at D.I.N.K!, everyone was talking about you. Does it feel cool to have such a heat about you?

West of Oz (2017) #2, cover by Morgan Beem.

MB: It’s great. You know I’m not sure I’d call it a heat, though I will thank you for that. The Denver comic community it one of the most wonderful comic communities that I’ve seen. It’s pretty small, it’s so accepting and supportive. Everyone just loves to see everybody else’s stories and see everybody succeed. I have been just so exceptionally fortunate that that community has really helped me along, helped hook me up. The people at D.I.N.K! and a lot of the people that I met through a Drink & Draw that happens in Denver - it’s the same thing, they have just really been a champion for me and they do everything they can to help me out. We are all just pretty close. Do you know Lonnie Allen?

NG: Yeah, of course. I loved his Delineate book!

MB: Ok, so Lonnie is a pinnacle (for those of you who don’t know) of the Denver comic community and he was actually the person who helped me get my very first Image gig. It was a 4-page short story in the back of Leila del Duca’s book Shutter. Denver has been extremely kind to me and I am really grateful for that.

NG: Cool. Now at D.I.N.K! I had actually spoken to the West of Oz guys and they were very pleased to have a cover form you. How did that come about?

MB: Ah, so those guys are actually my students (laughs)

NG: Oh really?

MB: Yeah, I was teaching for a while. I was an adjunct professor for the Arts Institute in Denver, and I helped them run the comic book club that they have there. So Sean (the writer of West of Oz) and Nick (who draws it) are both really great rising star members of that comic club. They are super hardworking and they have really got their stuff together. You know, even beyond what I do. So just in getting to know them and being supportive of their project, they were like, "Hey, do you want to do a cover for us?" and of course I did. So, it was really great.

NG: Are you no longer teaching then?

An interior page from The Family Trade. Art by Morgan Beem. (2)

MB: Not currently. I am still technically on faculty there and would really like to go back to teaching one day, but now with the comics projects I have going on - it’s just not the time.

NG: That’s cool. It’s cool that you have the amount of work that you can choose to stop teaching.

MB: Yeah, it’s pretty exciting, I am very fortunate.

NG: What projects do you have coming up?

MB: So, just the big horror Webtoons project, then the Image comic HERE//after. Then I have a couple of short things coming up through BOOM! Again, I am not sure if I can tell you about them or not so for the sake of keeping my job I’m not going to. But possibly yeah, some small chapters will be coming up for certain things at BOOM! I am just kind of moving and shaking on those things.

NG: It certainly sounds like you have plenty to do. As a closing question for you, if people wanted to find you or see more of your work online where could we do that?

MB: Pretty much on any social media (facebook, twitter) it’s just going to be my name - Morgan Beem. Or they can check out my portfolio site at

NG: Awesome. Thank you for your time.

A commission of J.M. Linsner's Dawn, done by Morgan Beem.

Morgan Beem at Phoenix Comic Fest 2018.

Morgan Beem at Phoenix Comic Fest 2018.

Some of the art available from Morgan Beem at Phoenix Comic Fest 2018.

Sean Benner & Nick Winand Head West of Oz! (DINK 2018)

Written by Neil Greenaway

Sean Benner & Nick Winand at DINK 2018.

Sean Benner & Nick Winand at DINK 2018.

West of Oz is an all-ages, western themed retelling of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz story produced by the Colorado-based White Stag Productions. Featuring a bounty hunting Dorothy Gale, a Munchkinland full of revolutionaries, and a fresh take on the mythology, the book is aimed squarely at bringing more young readers into the world of Oz while also doing it's part to improve the role of female representation in comics. At the 2018 Denver Independent Comic & Arts Expo in April, I was able to sit down and speak with Sean Benner and Nick Winand - the creators (author and artist, respectively) of the West of Oz series. Having just debuted the second and third issues as well as a trade paperback, the pair had quite a bit to talk about.

West of Oz #1, cover by Nick Winand.

Neil Greenaway: First off can I get just a brief synopsis of your book? What is West of Oz?

Sean Benner: For us we wanted to remake something form our childhood in a non-gritty, non-dramatic way. We wanted to take something we really loved and bring it to a new audience that isn’t as familiar with it. So, I grew up loving escapist fiction for children like Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Willie Wonka. All of that I loved and so the first thing I thought of was the Wizard of Oz, and we thought what would be the most cheesy, dark, gritty version of that world? And we thought of Dorothy Gale, Bounty Hunter. That would be the most ‘Oh, this is so hardcore!’ version. So, we took that idea and turned it into an all ages action/adventure story. We tried to keep as much content from the original novel as we could and really make something that anyone could pick up and read through and get a new take on the Wizard of Oz.

NG: All right, and where did you come into that Nick?

Nick Winand: Well actually we went to the Art Institute here in Denver and we decided we wanted to make a real property and push something out that was complete and finished. Sean wrote it, I kind of helped him co-write it, but it was mainly him. I started doing the art. And Jay Peteranetz actually got me into comics. I didn’t care about them at first, but he taught me how comics work, and I thought I might as well give it a shot. So we got together and did it in school, while in college, and knocked out the first issue.

NG: And now here at DINK 2018 you guys have got the 2nd issue and a new trade paperback, correct?

Nick: Correct.

Sean: Yeah. All in the last year, since DINK 2017 was the first thing we ever tabled at, our first convention - and we had no book for it. But in the last year we have put out three issues and a trade paperback just in time for DINK this year.

The West of Oz character sheet, from Sean Benner & Nick Winand.

NG: And is this a series that you have a definitive ending to? Or could you see this ongoing, is this something you could keep adding to?

Sean: I think from a writing perspective, we have encapsulated only the first novel in our first 9 issues, the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. There are 14 Oz novels written by L. Frank Baum and there are over 50 Wizard of Oz novels all together. We would love to continue with a new story, but we want to make sure each one is encapsulated enough that you could buy the TPB and feel like you get a whole book from beginning to end. And for Nick, he’s got so many characters that we haven’t got to use yet. Oz is much wider than what we have got to show so far.

NG: Now, is that problematic for you Nick? Are you trying to stick to the original interpretations of these characters or are you trying to make them your own?

Nick: That’s a good question. Because I like Wizard of Oz and I care about it. I don’t want to stray too far from it. Of course we always have to give a nod to L. Frank Baum, but at the same time his writing and my character design... It always ends up being a deviation - in a good way, to something that is new and fresh. It has been a new take on it, yes - but with the spirit of staying true to his story. Every time I do it I try to create something brand new.

NG: If you guys are to keep pushing forward, would you try to do a novel for each series?

Sean: The next book in the series is about the search for the rightful heir to the throne - which is supposed to be the queen. She was a young princess who had a spell cast on her that turned her into a boy, who was then sold to work on a farm. Her name is Tip. We snuck her into issue 2, to put a nod and to show that we do want to do that book. I would love nothing more than to write a transgender 'search for the king' book. That is an amazing opportunity to me and Baum wrote it in 1902. To me that is mind blowing and still pertinent today. I would love to do that one. And Nick has helped me work out a lot of what happened before our book. L. Frank Baum, every time someone asked about the origins of Oz, he would give them a new answer. So, we also have a script for a prequel book. I think Oz - if Nick is not sick of it, we would do Oz books for as long as people want to read it.

The West of Oz crew! DANIELLE HINES, SEAN BENNER, JEREMY TAVERAS, and Nick Winand at DINK 2018.

Nick: I think the only reason I would get sick of it is if people didn’t like it anymore. If everybody got tired of what we were doing, maybe I would need to try something else. But if people like it and are receptive to it, I say we’ll keep pushing until it’s no longer valid.

NG: Nice. You had talked a little bit about a prequel. If you did a prequel, would that in any way be based on one of the stories Baum told? Or would you try to make that story your own?

Sean: So, L. Frank Baum really mythologized it a lot. He says the Wizard came to Oz – there’s a couple different versions of how he got there – but once he got there, he met the King and became the advisor. Then there was a war with the witches, and that’s where the King and the Queen died and the Wizard took over. So, he laid the framework over the 14 books. "Oh, I mentioned this here, and this here, and this here." Having read all of them, you can really piece it together. But we really added to it, too. Our main character would be the Woodsman because he was a normal guy, a normal logger, and then he got drafted into the war of the witches. That backstory really maps the story out for us to lead directly to the events of our first book. You’ll see the Woodsman, just like in the original - is sort of trapped in his house in the woods and he needs someone else’s help to escape. So the last panels of our prequel would be him going into that house and getting trapped. Narratively, we want to keep the same group of characters and make it 20 years earlier maybe? No, longer than that. So we can do a lot of, "Oh look, it’s that lady who had the cow in issue two, but now she’s a little girl! Oh hey, that’s that witch when she was a lot younger." We have a lot of, would you say backstory for the witches?

An unfortunate beginning for the witch. An interior page from West of Oz, written by Sean Benner with art from Nick Winand.

Nick: Yeah, especially with that war that goes on, that the Woodsman is drafted into. That whole war itself is huge. It’s just one giant episodic tale by itself.

Sean: And a lot of times we feel like our witches - like our first witch is a gag appearance. She is on one page and she looks up and sees something falling and says, ‘is that a house?’ and gets crushed.

Nick: That’s all you get to see of her really.

Sean: Yeah. But she would be a very central character in the prequel book.

NG: Now with Oz recently being revisited in Wicked and trying to tell the backstory of the wicked witch, do you take anything from that? Or is that completely aside?

Sean: Ah, I loved Wicked. Have you ever seen it?

Nick: Actually, I haven’t seen it.

Sean: So yeah, I have read the first two books and then I started the Lion Among Men but I haven’t finished that yet. I think Gregory Maguire's version is brilliant. But I think he is doing a fundamentally different thing where he is adding a drama element, and we’re taking out drama and adding comedy. But his Elphaba is amazing. I think any novel or story that’s going to be based around a strong female representation has to have a character fairly similar to his Elphaba because she was so well written.

NG: There’s another question: in the original Oz, Dorothy is the picture of naivety when she starts and she grows into a stronger character through her experiences to the point that in the end you would almost think she could deal with real life. Since you guys are writing her as a bounty hunter from the beginning, is there a reason she is that strong at the start?

Nick: The main reason why we did that is so we could thrust her into a world where there is more action and adventure that she can deal with from the get go. That way the war she is dealing with at the very beginning is more dangerous, more exciting, more fun to be part of.

West of Oz Vol.1: No Place Like Home, cover by Nick Winand.

Sean: Yeah. Less of the ramp-up till you can get to the part where she can deal with life, and we did realize that was her central development arc. So, our main arc for Dorothy has her feeling that can solve her family and everyone’s problems, realizing there’s things that she can’t do alone, and being willing to ask for help. Our book starts out, right at the beginning, someone offers her help and says I can help you pay for that. You don’t have to worry about your family’s ranch if you don’t want to. A guy comes along and says, "Hey, you should be getting married soon anyway. Here’s an opportunity to take care of your problems and take the easy way out." And she is like, "I can take care of it myself."  Then at the very end of the arc, when she goes back to Kansas we definitely touch on that. It wasn’t just something we threw in, those are our bookends. The representation of her in the real world thinking I can take on anything myself, and then her getting back and realizing there are things you need to accept help from others for. I really liked that arc. Bigger than that though, I read through the novel and just took notes. Dorothy is an 8-year-old girl and she’s involved in 4 homicides of people and they kill well over 200 animals in that original book. I just couldn’t put an 8-year-old in that place. I would also hate to do an adult female character who is a damsel, because I am married to a woman who is a military veteran. My family is full of women with service time also and so I don’t know how to write that damsel character. I know how to write a strong female who 'don’t need no man'. I can do that. I have been around those women all my life and they have all been married, so they’ve gone through this personal arc I am trying to write as well. I have a lot of reference for that. And for me - I think it’s important to give little girls something to represent them, but there’s a lot of women who could use a strong representation out there as well.

NG: If you guys are trying to stick close to the novels but trying to make it your own as well, are there any additions? Any new characters, for instance?

Nick: I don’t think so…

West of Oz TPB credit page, art by Nick Winand.

Sean: Yours really. Nick comes up with characters to add into the scenes, one an issue at least and they are more like-

Nick: Side characters

Sean: Environmental characters almost.

Nick: Participants. I think we stay true to the story overall - the main thread of the story. But aesthetically, character design wise, we stick to those main beasts that are close to what he first envisioned. The ones I add in, they are just an accent to what L. Frank Baum originally created.

Sean: And I think they are some of the most popular things. We have very stylized munchkins, dressed in the garb of Mexican revolutionaries. They are having their war against the witch, trying to fight for independence. They look like revolutionary Muppets or like wild west bandit\Muppets. I think the only major character change we have made is that we left Toto in Kansas. We went through the book and the only thing he says, ever on any of the pages is "Arf". He usually says it multiple times on every page. I am not going to letter that that many times in 9 books.

Nick: It’s useless for us. Everything else is pretty much the same exact way the original book was

Sean: And then it gives us another reason for Dorothy to pine for her home. She misses her doggie. Just one more reason to get her home, right?

NG: You guys had the first issue a year ago, you’ve got the second issue and the trade.

West of Oz #2, cover by Morgan Beem.

Sean: And the third issue. We got Morgan Beem, she does The Family Tree for Image right now, she is doing great. She did the cover for issue 2. Then Jorge Corona, he’s been doing Number One with a Bullet for Image, he did the issue 3 cover. We were really blessed to get them to agree to work on our project and they really enjoyed it. So, when we found out we could get them for covers I thought - no, we are doing the next 2 issues, we can’t just do one. If we got both of them we’re going to do 2 and 3. We’ll just push.

NG: So, what is included in the trade?

Sean: We included the first 3 issues, a cover gallery, a little write up I put in there, and then we put a special thanks page for all the people who were exception donors during our Kickstarter. We really couldn’t have got off the ground without those people. We produced the book all digitally without any pay or compensation and then monetized it. We were going to put it out either way, but we couldn’t have made all 3 unless we had strong supporters.

NG: And has the support been pretty strong? Do you guys hear good feedback?

Sean: I always make anyone that wants to buy the book at our table look at it and I say if you don’t like it don’t buy it. I only want people who like it to buy it. Our largest fanbase so far has definitely been in Mexico.

Nick: We have a huge fanbase down there.

Sean: Yeah. A lot of digital rewards and digital packages we offered sold great but when we did our first physical book we didn’t offer fulfillment to there. So, our next projects we are trying to stretch outside of the US. It seems like maybe people are watching the Wizard of Oz more often in other countries right now.

West of Oz #3, cover by Jorge Corona.

Nick: It seems like a lot of the people who have the exceptional fulfillment of the Kickstarter tend to be outside of the US in the first place.

Sean: Yeah, a lot of UK, Australia, we even had one in India, a couple in Sweden and Denmark.

Nick: Europe in general likes us. But our main focus besides getting it out here in the states has been Mexico. They loves us and we want to be able to give them what they need when we do the next Kickstarter.

Sean: And a big thing for us is we are really trying to get the book in front of as many publishers as we can. And we know you have to have 3 issues before anyone will even consider picking you up. So, we made sure to get our first three in a TPB, and we have shopped it around. We are going to go to Rose and Emerald City this year and hit up Image and IDW and Boom and everyone else. Really the next push is to show we don’t need their help. Maybe that will encourage them to help us.

NG: What happens moving forward? What’s the plan for the next issue?

Nick: We are actually deciding that stage right now, figuring it out.

Sean: Yeah, right now with the middle of April and we’ve done enough work together and enough crowdfunding that we could have a new Kickstarter out as soon as the beginning of May. We could be working on the Kickstarter for issue 4, 5 and 6 and then we would have that out around or before September. I would hope. If we can start it in May we can get it out before September, and then there will only be the final 3 left - 7, 8 and 9. We plan to have those done before DINK next year. So, we should have all 9 issues done in the next 364 days. Oh my God that sounded terrible!

West of Oz: all three issues and the trade paperback at DINK 2018.

Nick: That’s crazy. It’s nuts. I started sweating.

NG: That about covers it for the questions but I do have one more to close. If people wanted to see more from you guys, if people want to find you online where are they going to look?

Sean: The easiest place to find us is either Facebook or search West of Oz on Kickstarter we are the only one that will come up. We do a lot of our news on both sites, so either Facebook or Kickstarter. Our twitter account is woefully unattended but we have a twitter, it’s @westofozcomic.

NG: All right. Is there anything else that you would add?

Nick: No, I just want to say thanks for interviewing us today, it’s been really good.

Sean: And thanks to everyone who likes the book. It’s a really great thing to make, and it’s a fun thing to hear people have feedback for us.

NG: Awesome. Thank you both for your time.

Sean Benner & Nick Winand at DINK 2018!


The Campfire Stories of Bill & Pepper DeLuca (DINK 2018)

Written by Neil Greenaway

Pepper & Bill DeLuca at DINK! 2018.

Pepper & Bill DeLuca at DINK! 2018.

Craig "Pepper" DeLuca and his husband Bill DeLuca are not only the driving force behind Peppercopia Publishing, LLC - they are also the creators behind the company's current comic title, Campfire Stories of Lake Kikipapi. With Bill writing the story and Pepper handling the art duties, the pair debuted the series at the 2017 Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo (or DINK!). One year later (at DINK! 2018) they had a new issue, Side Stories of Camp Lake Kikipapi. I sat down with the couple to see what we could expect from the new issue, where it fit with the main series, and what the future holds for the Lake Kikipapi campers.

Campfire Stories of Lake Kikipapi #1 by Bill & Pepper DeLuca.

Neil Greenaway: I am sitting here with Bill & Pepper DeLuca - the creators behind the Campfire Stories of Lake Kikipapi series. Can I have you start us out by giving me the elevator pitch for the series?

Pepper: So, take 90’s realness of Salute Your Shorts and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, mash them together with a little bit of side humor like you find in Gravity Falls or Dead Like Me.

NG: Ok. That’s a very nice elevator pitch. Now you guys already have issue 1 out and here at DINK! 2018 you are releasing the Side Stories. What’s going on in that?

Pepper: Yes. So, the Side Stories kind of briefly touch on 2 moments in the Campfire Stories of Lake Kikipapi that were interrupted in the main story. They both involve screaming. It is basically bringing up some things centered around trauma, and we kind of explain that trauma in the Side Stories. Since Bill is the writer maybe he should kind of explain that and talk a little bit more about it.

Bill DeLuca: I think the best way to explain it is that these are the stories that will literally lead you into the 2nd chapter. So, we’ll cover some things that happened in chapter one, give you some backing there, and then introduce some things to help you read into the next part.

NG: Will this be a model going forward? Would the releases see a main issue and then a side story issue?

Pepper: Yes, since I am working on chapter 2 right here at the table. Once this is done we have another 16-page side story that Bill has to start writing in about 2 months - because he has to take some breaks and some time between each one to figure out how he’s going to write it.

Bill: It’s a process. I kind of outline it to figure out what I want.

Pepper: But it’s going to be fun, I have already talked to him about it. It’s introducing three new characters, all of whom are important and integral to the main storyline that he has in his head.

Craig & Annie talk in the nurse's office. An interior page from Campfire Stories of Lake Kikipapi #1 by Bill & Pepper DeLuca.

NG: Looking through the book, one of the most distinctive images is Ant Gal. How did you guys come to her? What is she to the story?

Bill: Well it was actually born out of us exercising and going hiking. In Colorado, when the earth finally thaws out, the ants come out - really lethargic and in a pile. And he would occasionally step on these piles, and I would say, "Don’t step on the ants!" And he kept doing it. So, I was like "You watch, there’s going to be some demonic soul that is imprisoned in these ants and you’re going to let it out." Then we just kept talking and talking about it, and it kind of evolved into this story. We decided to make a commitment to it and put it out there. That’s where Ant Gal comes from. Now, staying with the campfire story theme - that is just one story. Our next story is going to be about a zombie theme. It’s going to be different characters and everything, but still all based around the camp.

NG: Because this is based around the idea of a summer camp, is the cast going to rotate? Will there be new kids occasionally?

Pepper: Yes.

Bill: We have a whole set of characters and we actually roll dice to figure out who is going to be in the next one.

Pepper: We have 10 campers that we rotate that are non-town characters. Granted, there’s more than 20 kids at the camp, so we just focus on 20. Making this kind of simple for ourselves but not too simple. So, Archie from the first comic - he basically did the screaming in the middle of it, he’s back in the story. He’s doing the campfire stories again, giving it a 2nd chance. We have - and I am not mispronouncing this - this is actually a character based off of someone I knew when I was a kid, his nickname was Cooter. So this character's name is Cooter. It’s a southern thing. If you know what I’m talking about you’ll understand. Then we have some new characters which I cannot for the life of me remember off the top of my head... We have Nigella, we have Ramona, and Melody.

Bill: Is Suzie in this one?

The coming of Ant Gal! An interior page from Campfire Stories of Lake Kikipapi #1 by Bill & Pepper DeLuca.

Pepper: Suzie is not in this one. I am also having fun drawing Dick Pover, which is the assistant camp director - who also happens to be a person classified with dwarfism. Classified little person if you want to be more PC. But I get to draw him as a child and as an adult, and that’s what is going to be fun for the story. He is actually IN the horror story that we are going to be talking about in the camp.

NG: Cool. Now when you guys do this, is it a collaborative process - with the two of you working together? Or is it more like Bill goes to write and then Pepper draws?

Bill: It kind of starts as a collaborative process. We agree on what story we want to do, we have a rough idea of what the story is and then it drops into what I do. I outline it and then I show him the outline. If he likes it, and we agree that we both like what’s going on, then I go ahead and completely detail it out into a script.

NG: And how long is it taking you guys to do a whole issue? From your scripting (Bill) to your finished art (Pepper)?

Pepper: The first one took us about a year if I’m being honest. It was about six months of talking about everything, and then it took another six months to get everything complete. For the second issue, he completed everything in time for me to draw it but I also had two other things on my plate, so I had to push back the release from DINK. I’m really super bummed about it but I do have the first 3 pages penciled so I am showing those to people that come by the table. It’s been nice once I realized I didn’t need to draw everything for this event. I’m just going to try to - in the next two months - get everything done as fast as I can.

NG: So then would you be looking at like Denver Comic Con as a release?

Pepper: I would but we are not tabling at Denver Comic Con.

NG: You’re local and indie so why would they have you. (laughs)

Pepper & Bill DeLuca behind their table at DINK 2018.

Pepper: I know. Sometimes I wonder if we are too indie but then I realize I come to events like DINK! and nope, these are my people. These are the people I like being around and these are the people I like catering to and talking to.

NG: You had said that you will probably go into more Side Stories as you go along. If this series goes to a collected edition, would the side stories be integrated into the main series? Or would they be a separate volume?

Pepper: So, it’s meant to be read as a chapter of the Campfire Stories followed by a book of the Side Stories and then you read the next chapter. If we went ahead and published it in a collected volume, it would probably be 10 books together in one perfect bound anthology type deal.

Bill: The way it’s written, you don’t need to read the Side Stories. The Campfire Stories comics can stand by themselves, but sometimes you’ll see characters just appear and they are already being talked about and are known. It’s not going to take away from anything, but if you have already read the Side Stories then you are going to have that inside knowledge.

NG: It is good to have an outlet for the side character's stories. Some authors feel the need to shove everyone’s backstory into every issue, but occasionally it is ok for people to just show up.

Books & art from Peppercopia Publishing at DINK 2018.

Pepper: Yeah and it’s good for that respect. You are in a small camp. It’s not like this huge sprawling 200-300 kid camp with several counselors. Lake Kikipapi is more like a few camp counselors, four adults and about 40 some odd children. So, it’s like you have to pick and choose your battles on which stories can be told. It is still a lot of fun, and we get to do 2 different types of comics.

NG: Using a summer camp as a setting, there are a lot of different genres that could be utilized. With the campfire story setting you always have an undercurrent of horror - but the camp setting offers so much more, like romantic experimentation or a first kiss. Are those stories that could find their way in?

Bill: I think that there’s room for it. In what we have currently planned there will be three main stories - three chapters. Then we have one prequel, which will cover the topic of someone we introduce and want a backstory on. Then there’s going to be a story about the town which is right next to the camp, which is also mysterious in its own way. And in there you might find other genres, specifically in the prequel or in the town story. Then we will also have one long format story to kind of endcap it. So, at the very end of this, we will have a full set: we’ll have those three stories, the two caps, the long format and all the in between stories. That will be one set.

NG: That will be a heck of a book!

Side Stories of Camp Lake Kikipapi by Bill & Pepper DeLuca.

Bill: Well, it won’t be one book. It will be like a set you can buy.

Pepper: Or just one large graphic novel.

Bill: Gosh I don’t want to think about what that would look like.

NG: A monster of a book.

Pepper: Encyclopedia Kikipapi. We kind of have a different genre with Ant Gal. We show the nervousness of the possibility of first love but if you read the outcome of that, it wasn’t really love it was revenge.

Bill: We do have an eventual story about familials that end up in relationships and spawn other characters that are in here.

Pepper: After this chapter is actually where that takes place. We have a little girl named Olive and she is connected to the camp in a very significant way. Then we have in the Side Stories a character who is affectionately called Little Duck by his grandfather - who is the chieftain of a fictitious native American tribe that is part of the town. Oh, by the way the town is called Twin Ferns. So, there is a place similar that sells pie and has coffee-

Bill: On the topic of other kinds of subjects, in the Side Stories is the interaction of the Penderwalls - so that in and of itself is not a horror but it does cover other themes that are going on.

Pepper: Let’s just put it this way: if you had to reference it Twin Ferns is like Twin Peaks. We know this we are not being abashed or shy about it. The Penderwalls are semi based off the attitude people had towards the Horns. So, they’re the most hated people in the town.

Bill: They own half the town, and half the town hates them.

Archie walks with Mother Nature. An interior page from Side Stories of Camp Lake Kikipapi by Bill & Pepper DeLuca.

Pepper: Yeah, they own half the town. We kind of modeled it, instead of having the two children of the Horn family - it’s actually four children. There are two daughters, two sons – well you don’t know if one son is a girl or a boy so I don’t know yet. His name is Estes and he goes by him, his and he, so...

NG: That hasn’t been defined yet?

Pepper: It hasn’t really been defined and it will be explained later on. I don’t want to give away too much.

NG: Or else the writer is going to harm you later.

Pepper: Yeah, I know the writer is going to harm me later. But you have Pudge, who is also going to be introduced with Olive and Little Duck as well - because he is actually integral to those two and they become friends.

NG: Moving forward, is this a series you see a defined endcap on? Or is this something you could keep doing forever?

Pepper: Well summer has to end at some point.

NG: Sure, but the town has to keep running during the winter.

Bill: Yeah, we have actually talked about that. We’ve really planned out this whole world and all the characters in it. We have a nuclear ending, which just ends it - and we have an ending that finishes the story, but the next generation could take it on and your imagination could just imagine. It keeps going. So, we haven’t decided if we want to nuclear "kill it all" at the end or let the imagination go instead.

Pepper: I think that the consensus is that the nuclear will only be pulled out if we really feel like we need to stop. I think that is pretty much how we have decided that.

Archie gets teased by his bunkmates. An interior page from Side Stories of Camp Lake Kikipapi by Bill & Pepper DeLuca.

Bill: But right now, the only commitment is to the set that we have talked about - to see if there is a real audience for it and how they engage with it. If they really like it we will do another one, and another one - until we reach one of those two conclusions.

Pepper: There are other stories that Bill has thought of that he wants to try and do as well.

NG: Would those be in this universe or in a separate series?

Pepper: In this universe.

Bill: That’s kind of where the long format story comes in. I do want to do something longer and more engaging. When you’re writing for a comic, you’re really trying to fit a really short and intense arc into so many pages. So, I would really like to do something a little more involved. We have committed to doing at least one manga, where it’s just more involved and more detailed than the rest of the arc is.

Pepper: Let me clarify, he meant graphic novel.

Bill: Graphic novel, sure.

NG: I was just about to ask would you alter your style to look Japanese?

Pepper: No.

Bill: That was just my ignorance of the vocabulary.

Pepper: I already have a lot people who are like, "So you draw anime, like old anime?" It drives me crazy! My influences are 1920’s cartoons, Tex Avery, the Looney Tunes, Peyo (who is the creator of the Smurfs). There’s a lot of American artists where you can see the foundations of anime and manga.

More books & art from Peppercopia Publishing at DINK 2018.

NG: I think that honestly wraps up the questions I had but there is one more in closing for you. If the people reading want to see more, if they want to find you online, where would they look?

Pepper: You can go to and we sell the first chapter of Campfire Stories which is Ant Gal. That’s up on the website and soon we are going to have the Side Stories up. We are also going to start putting the artbooks that I created up there as well. Fairly soon, so you can support us and help us grow.

NG: Awesome. Thank you guys both for your time.

Campfire Stories of Lake Kikipapi & Side Stories of Camp Lake Kikipapi - both by Bill & Pepper DeLuca.

Battle Mermaids & Zebra Centaurs! Talking About "Amelia" With Thea J. Hunt (DINK 2018)

Written by Neil Greenaway

Thea J. Hunt at DINK 2018.

Thea J. Hunt at DINK 2018.

Thea J. Hunt is a Denver-based painter, illustrator, and author who has spent the last few years world-building a new fantasy realm - a place for her stories to live. It is not out of place at all to find her tucked into the back corner of a downtown coffee shop, forgetting the world around her to concentrate on the sketchpad in front of her. And her dedication has paid off. Amelia #1 (the first issue of a 3-part mini-series) debuted in April at the 2018 Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo. I was able to sit and talk with Thea at the show, and she told me about a world filled with Gods, mortals, and new interpretations of ancient mythological creatures.

Amelia (2018) #1 by Thea J. Hunt. (front cover)

Neil Greenaway:  Today I am speaking with Thea Hunt about the debut of her very first comic, Amelia #1. So, can you start us off by telling us a little bit about the story?

Thea HuntAmelia is about a little girl who goes through an intriguing drama when she is very young, and it is about how she deals with that while also being raised by gods who don't really know how humans work.

NG:  Is this going to be a standalone story or is this the beginning of a series?

Thea:  Oh, this is a series. This is the first of a three-part story, set in a world I will make more mini-comics in.

NG:  Do you have a definitive endpoint in mind for the story - where it might run for 3 or 4 mini-series? Or could you tell stories in this world forever?

Thea:  Well, for now I have the three issues planned. After that maybe some one-shots, but we will just have to see. I am aiming at having all the issues be around 22 or 25 pages.

NG:  I was told this book may include battle mermaids.

Thea:  This book will definitely include a battle mermaid, and they are based off of orcas. I am really excited for them.

NG:  Okay, so why battle mermaids?

Thea:  Because I have always felt that if there was a creature like that, that was partially humanoid and lived in the sea - specifically the sea - we would be done. If these guys are part human they are definitely going to attack us at least once. So why not? We already have mermaids in our fantasy, why not make them cooler and scarier?

Amelia (2018) #1 by Thea J. Hunt. (back cover)

NG:  Are there any other traditional fantasy characters that you will be giving a facelift to in this series?

Thea:  Yeah, centaurs. There are going to be some zebra centaurs that will be really fun. I am going to have some ice elves that will be a little different. (laughs) I am playing around with lots of different things. Ogres, giants, this is basically a whole fantasy realm. There is a fairy slave trade that is really scary - but the fairies will get their revenge. (I guess)

NG:  You said that this story will be about a human girl being raised by gods. How does she feel about them? Does she know that she is different?

Thea:  She is very much aware. By the time she comes to the gods, she is already 8 or 9. She has already had those years of relationship with her family before losing them, and trying to explain that to the gods is very hard for her. So she is very aware of the differences.

NG:  Are these Eternal gods? Are these beings who have been around for a long time already?

Thea:  Yes, they have been around forever - as far as Amelia knows.

NG:  Will these Gods be taken from mythologies we already know?

Thea:  No, but I am taking inspiration from the mythologies for a lot of their methods. I have basically gone with the Greek method of godding - where a God can say, "Hey that girl is hot, I know she has a husband but I'm going to throw this coin at her and we'll be good. Oh, you had a son? Well I know he's a half God, but he can probably just stay on Earth. It's cool."

NG:  This God didn't need another baby.

Thea:  Yes, exactly! So these are those kind of Gods. I mean, they are trying but they are not human. They do not understand how humans think and so they mess up a lot.

An interior page from Amelia #1 (color edition) by Thea J. Hunt.

NG:  All right, so they are imperfect Gods. I dig it. Are there any other humans floating around or is she the last?

Thea:  There are actually a bunch of other humans. So right now, Amelia lives in a semi-natural but also semi-God world. She is sort of in the middle and she does not know where she fits exactly. When she is in the human world, she interacts with lots of other humans and experiences a lot of different types of people - who have all been through a lot of stuff, too. So she will need to learn how to deal with them and how they have dealt with their stuff. So that will be fun.

NG:  Now I know that for this first issue you had two versions printed up: a color version and a black and white version. Is there one that you feel speaks better to the story?

Thea:  I really love the colored edition. It really makes the backgrounds come out better, but the black and white version is beautiful too. It just makes things a little bit less obvious.

NG:  Are you doing all of this by yourself?

Thea:  Basically, yes - but I have had some excellent friends along the way who have helped me out a lot. I have been really lucky, but yes this book is mostly me.

Thea J. Hunt at DINK 2018. (2)

Thea J. Hunt at DINK 2018. (2)

NG:  Awesome. It always feels good to know that you have help if you need it. After you finish Amelia, whose story from this world would you tell next?

Thea:  There are a ton of great stories to tell in this universe, but I feel like her friend group is really fun. I can't wait until I am able to tell stories about their backgrounds. I can't wait till we get there and I am excited to bring other people there with me.

NG:  Then you do have stories in this universe that don't include Amelia at all?

Thea:  Of course! That has been the plan the whole time, actually. The plan has always been that she was the setup for the myth. There are other people involved in the story, she is the setup. Just at the beginning we are going to focus on this girl for a minute.

NG:  How long have you been working on this project?

Thea:  I have been working on my art since I was 5 years old. I came up with Amelia the character in probably 2010, and I have been working on the pages for this comic since maybe 2016.

NG:  Now I wonder. Did you fall victim to the classic artist blunder when you have a book in development for that long: Did you find yourself needing to go back and redo the art from the beginning?

Thea:  I may have redrawn it three or four times, so probably. But the book is out now and I am not doing that anymore. (laughs)

NG:  Finished, not perfect. That is a fine method.

Thea:  Finished, not perfect! As long as it is looked at as a whole, and you don't dissect it into tiny pieces - because no one page will ever be perfect for you. But if you can step back and see it as a whole and that looks okay that is what you were aiming for.

Amelia #1 by Thea J. Hunt, displayed at DINK 2018.

NG:  In the independent market today, there is an awful lot of collaboration. Are you looking to bring any other artists into this world now that you have created it?

Thea:  I am not actually working with anyone else at the moment, but I have spoken to several different artists about collaborating on some pieces. That is all kind of up in the air right now. I'm still just starting.

NG:  Since this is your first book, are you nervous? Do you worry about what the feedback will be?

Thea:  I am extremely nervous, but even just the reactions from people who have stopped to read it here at the table have helped me out a lot.

NG:  What have people been saying?

Thea:  Cool things like, "This is beautiful, I really love this!" Things like that, and it has been really nice. It makes me want to make a better story for them. Hopefully it will only keep getting better.

Prints by Thea J. Hunt. 

NG:  I know that you were recently accepting commissions. Are you still taking on new commissions?

Thea:  I am always accepting commissions! Please contact me at my email: TheaHunt@

NG:  I personally am happy to speak to the quality of those commissions, as you just did two for me. They were gorgeous! I think that about wraps up our interview today, but one last question: If people want to follow you or see more of your work online where would they look to do that?

TheaThea J Hunt Illustrations - that is my main website. Also my handle is JoviLikesInks on basically every social media website except Facebook. That is where you can find my work.

*I checked in again with Thea after the show, and her entire first print sold out. Personally, I loved it & I can't wait to see what what comes next!*

Dawn - a recent commission from Thea J. Hunt.

Hellboy - a recent commission from Thea J. Hunt.

What Inspires An Independent? - An Interview With Sean Tiffany (DINK 2018)

Written by Mary Andreski

Sean Tiffany at DINK 2018.

Sean Tiffany at DINK 2018.

Sean Tiffany is the head of Plastic Spoon Press and has been a freelance illustrator for the last twenty five years. He has worked for clients such as Marvel Comics, Stone Arch Books, and Sports Illustrated for Kids. In 1998 he self published his first work, EXIT 6 - which has now been collected into a 390 page book that mixes the collected comic, an art book, and an autobiography all inside of one cover. Sean also writes and draws the futuristic rock and roll comic OilCan Drive, which mixes video, music, and traditional comic art.

At the 2018 Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo, we found Mr. Tiffany behind his table and took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about where he has been in the industry, what inspires him, and what keeps him going.

OilCan Drive Trading Cards from Sean Tiffany.

Mary Andreski:  I am sitting here at DINK! 2018 with Sean Tiffany. Can you start us out by telling us a little bit about yourself and your latest book?

Sean Tiffany:  Okay. I am an artist who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I am a freelance artist, this is what I do for a job. I have worked on things like Sports Illustrated for Kids. The personal project I'm working on is called OilCan Drive. It is a comic book and a multimedia project. It is about a man in a post-apocalyptic future - and it is sort of a mix of Josie and the Pussycats & Firefly. So it's got rock'n roll, science fiction, hockey, big gorillas who play bass guitar. Everything I love in one book.

OilCan Drive Vol. 1: Into The Outer Zone by Sean Tiffany.

Mary:  What do you mean by multimedia in relation to this project?

Sean:  It means that it's not just a comic book. It started as a comic book project and it slowly turned into something bigger, where I wanted to do music for it I want to do videos for it. I didn't want to just confine it to being a book format. I really enjoyed doing the music for it, I enjoyed giving the characters a voice that they would not have in a traditional comic book.

Mary:  You were saying earlier that you do all of the art as well as the writing?

Sean:  Yes. This is my personal project, so I do all of the art all of the writing and all of the production. I also did all of the music. I am someone who does not want to pawn this work off on somebody else, because then it may or may not get done. I want to learn how to do it myself. Which made the music interesting, because I had no knowledge of making music before I started the project. I slowly started playing guitar, then bass, then drums. I started using Pro Tools and engineering and production. It's kind of neat that I can build it up all that way instead of just doing it as a comic book.

Mary:  It seems like you were a person that is very interested in learning and doing things your own way. When did you start drawing and creating comics?

Sean:  Well for comics I went to the Joe Kubert School in the early 90's. I had always loved drawing, and I was one of those people who went to the school and there were so many better people around me - no way I was going to make it in the big time. So I just wanted to do my own thing. I got really into the self-publishing movement of the early 90's with Bone, Strangers in Paradise, and Dave Sim's Cerebus. It was funny - I painted so well at the time that I was able to get a job as an assistant to a guy who worked in comics. So I ended up working for Marvel as a colorist back before I knew what else I knew. Which is weird.

The Collected EXIT 6 by Sean Tiffany.

Mary:  What sort of stuff did you work on when you were working with Marvel?

Sean:  At Marvel I was airbrushing before they went digital. So I did a lot of merchandising, a lot of covers, and I worked on just about every character you could think of. The X-Men, Spider-Man, the Punisher. Big comic crossover events like the Age of Apocalypse, some of the Maximum Carnage stuff, the Clone Saga, a lot of weird stuff. I worked with them until '96.

Mary:  What inspired you originally to get into comics? Was there anyone in particular?

Sean:  My love of art started with cartoons. I didn't really get into comic books until I was maybe 13, which was a bit later then some of my friends. But I liked the idea. I always liked drawing. I liked animation, but with comics I saw that you could do your own story yourself. You did not require a whole production team to do it. I liked the idea that I could take my stories and build them into something in the real world instead of having unfulfilled ideas that NEED to be made as a movie - which is something I could not do myself. I just sort of gravitated towards comics. I really love the medium.

Mary:  It takes a lot to be an independent artist and comic creator. Is there someone who has inspired you to keep at it or who has helped you to keep going?

Sean:  There are always people that I look up to, but it's weird now with the internet. You can find out so much about someone - which is both great and bad. The pedestal that you put them on is not as high as it might be, or when you find out about them you see that they are not doing as well as you thought they were. Like Drew Struzan, the famous movie poster painter. He did posters for Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I thought this guy had it made, but I recently watched a documentary about him and it turns out that someone was ripping him off throughout the 80's and took all his money. So I guess it wasn't actually going very well for him. But for artists that inspire, Drew Struzan is one I really love and Jeff Smith with Bone. For music, one guy who really inspires me is Tom DeLonge from Blink 182 - who recently went out and did his own thing. He's been doing new stuff, not only with music but with books, with film, with animation. He's a guy who does everything he can to bring people in (because of his stardom) and then has them work with different writers and artists - and he has the money to back these projects, too. I went to his shop in California recently and it was neat to see. He had his office in the back but in the front was this little retail space where he was displaying all his stuff. So he has a set up where you can constantly buy his things at this office/store, and I was really inspired by that. I thought that was cool.

OilCan Drive: Through the Goggles Sketchbook by Sean Tiffany.

Mary:  Have you ever had anyone say something after reading the book that inspired you to keep going with it?

Sean:  Oh, just saying that they like it. It is huge, if you are a small person doing your own project, just to hear that somebody likes it. Because you are not making a lot of money. It would be much easier to say, "Well I'm just going to draw Spider-Man or Batman. I'm just going to draw something that's popular to make money in the moment." But when you are doing your own stuff, just anyone recognizing that you are doing it and doing it well is enough to keep you going. Like last year at this show I had a guy come up and he was actually angry that I did not have a new issue. Which is weird, because he understood that we are not making any money at this. So now I'm working on a new issue, almost just to make that guy happy. (laughs) You need to have someone that you are making happy, even if it's the guy that is mad at you. At least he cares enough to be mad about it.

Mary:  What do you do outside of your art that keeps you connected to the world?

Sean:  Well, I do have a wife and a son. My son is 10 months old now, which limits my social interaction. I do enjoy coming out to the conventions and I do Free Comic Book Day. I love FCBD because I will just sit there and do sketches all day. I'll normally do sketches for an 8 hour period. I think I did 40 or 50 this year, so they are really quick in terms of getting them out. It's funny because for artists... It is not as easy financially as people would think. Even though I am doing well freelance wise, the stuff you don't think about is like - health insurance. That might be nice to have when I've got a family. (laughs) So one day a week I go work at FedEx, just helping people out. I love that I get a paycheck from them I love that I get health insurance but I also love that I get to be there talking to people, helping them. It gets me out of my own head for a while and I really enjoy that.

Mary:  Outside of your appearances at conventions, how can people see more of your work?

Sean:  They can go to my websites. is my main illustration site and is probably the best place to see all the new stuff I am working on for myself.

Mary:  That about wraps it up for us. Thank you so much for your time!

Sean:  You are welcome! I appreciate it.

OilCan Drive single issues from Sean Tiffany.

Sean Tiffany at DINK 2018. (2)

OilCan Drive and Exit 6 tpbs from Sean Tiffany.

Be Kind, Rewind With Ron Ruelle - An Interview About A Book About A VHS Tape Of A Movie About Dachshunds (DINK 2018)

Written by Neil Greenaway

Ron Ruelle at DINK! 2018.

Ron Ruelle at DINK! 2018.

Tapey McTaperson, the VHS mascot for Be Kind, Rewind.

Ron Ruelle began his lifelong journey into cartooning as a child, growing up with a grandmother who worked for a comic publisher. He spent his formative years practicing his art, getting one teacher to remark on a report card, "Ron needs to spend more time on math and less time drawing cartoons." While he was attending the University of Texas he was also drawing his first strip, Stoner's Aquarium, for the UT Daily Beacon. In 1990, Ron created a new strip called Stoopid Zü which ran for three years at the Knoxville News-Sentinel before being picked up by a syndicate - who requested a name change. Now called At the Zü (a name Ron has never liked), the strip ran in syndication for three years - at one point reaching an audience of nearly 100 newspapers. In 1998, facing the end of it's syndicated run, Ruelle decided to rename the strip again and keep it going on his own website as Darwin & Co. Wanting to try his hand at a more mature strip, Ron created the weekly Food, Shelter, Cable under the pseudonym Rex Silo.

These days, Mr. Ruelle has stepped into the world of graphic novels. When I caught up with him at the 2018 Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo, his table was covered in different books - including stacks of his newest work, Be Kind, Rewind. I sat down at the table with Ron and we talked about the bygone days of the video rental store, why his Awful Activities are okay for kids, and what he would do with a How To book. 

The whole time that we spoke, Ron's new VHS mascot - Tapey McTaperson - sat nearby. Quietly judging us. 

Neil Greenaway:  Today I am at DINK 2018 speaking with the statuesque and deeply voiced Ron Ruelle. Can I get you to introduce yourself and your new book?

Ron Ruelle:  (laughs) Thank you! Well, as you said, my name is Ron Ruelle. I am a cartoonist, illustrator, and ad guy. My new book is called Be Kind, Rewind. It is a graphic novel about a VHS tape of a movie about dachshunds. This is a book that I started in 2001, back when rental video cassettes were still a thing, but a bunch of stuff happened. Life got in my way and I sort of set the book aside, even though I had about 65 pages done already. Then, in the last few years, I decided that I needed to find a way to make this book happen one way or the other. So I came up with a new framing device and here we are.

Be Kind, Rewind (2018) by Ron Ruelle.

NG:  You have told me that this is a graphic novel about a VHS tape of a movie about dachshunds, but you have also told me that the dachshunds themselves are fairly tangential to the story.

RR:  Yeah, there is not a lot of dachshund action in here. If you are a fan of wiener dogs, they are peripheral to this story.

NG:  That is a shame, as I am a fan of hot wiener on wiener action.

RR:  Yes, wiener action is pretty good. There are still some fun bits in here - like there is an ad for Sea Wieners (which it turns out are just brine shrimp). This book, by the way, has a very cuddly cover with cute cartoon dachshunds chewing on a videotape - but this is a very R rated book. There is profanity, nudity, violence, casual racism and general dickishness.

NG:  It does say Rated R right on the cover.

RR:  Yeah, it says R on here a few times and it says For Mature Readers on the back.

NG:  If the book is not about the movie about dachshunds, what is the book about?

RR:  The book is about the video cassette itself. Imagine that you are shopping at a grocery store and you are returning your cart, like all good people do. And there, in another cart, you see a rental video cassette that somebody left behind. What would you do? Would you take it to the video store right away? Would you keep it? Would you take it home and watch it and return it 3 weeks late, incurring late fees? Would you murder someone with it and implicate the person who had originally rented it? There are so many different shades of gray & beyond. That's what we explore in this book, and so we live through all these different scenarios. We see the video tape destroyed several times over - so these stories can be seen as mutually exclusive or in alternate universes.

At the Zü from 5-28-98 by Ron Ruelle.

At the Zü from 5-28-98 by Ron Ruelle.

NG:  Before working on this book you had a daily comic strip called At the Zü. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

RR:  Right, so At the Zü was a comic strip I had many moons ago. It ran from 1995 to 1998. It was running in almost a hundred papers at one point. Which is getting to the place where you can start to make a living at this, but not quite, and it sort of faded from there. The thing about doing a syndicated comic strip is that it is the same amount of work whether you are in one paper or a thousand. But even for one paper, you still have to do the work. So after a few years I decided to move on to other things. I have 3 collected volumes of At the Zü now: 2 books of the dailies and one book of the collected Sunday strips.

Ron Ruelle at DINK 2018!

NG:  You have another book here at the table called Awful Activities, which you told me earlier was your best selling book. Could you tell me a little more about that?

RR:  Yes, Awful Activities is my best-selling book. It is an activity book for immature adults. It has pages like 'What horrible anxieties keep mommy awake at night?' and then you fill in her dream balloon. Or 'That's the most offensive cereal mascot ever!' and then you draw in the cereal box. 'What is Betsy burying in the shallow grave?' There are all sorts of fun possibilities. It says not for kids right on the cover, but I have been told that kids love this book. It is really only as raunchy as you make it. I do set people up for some pretty good jokes in here, though. I set them up, you knock them down.

NG:  Now that you have finished Be Kind, Rewind, what comes next? What is on the horizon?

RR:  Going around and selling books. (laughs) I have to plug this thing for a while, so I'm not really sure right now.

NG:  Aside from cartooning, the appearances at conventions, the selling of your books, I know that you also do a little bit of teaching. How has that been going for you?

RR:  Yes! I used to teach college classes at the Community College of Aurora, but I don't do that anymore. Right now I do teach at summer camps for different grades (usually late elementary school, middle school, some high school) in Denver and Boulder. At the Boulder Valley School District, I teach for them. So I will do a five-day, half-day summer camp. I work with the JCC in Denver, the Art Students League, various gigs downtown. It's a lot of fun because I never took art classes at all when I was a kid. I learned to draw cartoons just naturally. When I got hired to teach I had to ask myself, "How do I do those things? I don't know how to explain this other than to just do it." I had to sit down and think through my own process, and the decisions that I make to see how I do things and help me create lessons. I had to relearn cartooning so that I could teach cartooning. So, one of my next books will be a How To book, but I don't want it to say things like "...this character is 3 heads tall..." I wanted to talk about how to compose a panel that makes sense. Or how do I know what to draw versus what to write, and how do I flip back and forth between the two? How do I develop characters that are useful and that matter? Again, this is stuff that I never really thought about until I started teaching, and I had to figure out how to tell other people how to do it. Basically, I am going to distill my lessons into book form.

All the books from Ron Ruelle at DINK 2018!

NG:  That sounds great, and it would address questions that I hear asked a lot. I have one more question for you: if my readers wanted to see more of your books or follow your work online, where would they look?

RR:  They could go to my website which is Right there you will find links to all of my books, my graphic design, other comics, and all sorts of fun stuff!

NG:  Thank you very much for your time!

RR:  Thank you and Party On!

Pilla, Kaui, & áyA Studios - An Interview With Rafael & Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand (DINK 2018)

Written by Neil Greenaway

KEVIN BUTCHER (editor of  Pilla ) WITH KRISTINA, KODA, AND RAFAEL MALDONADO-BAD HAND AT DINK 2018. it had been a long day...

KEVIN BUTCHER (editor of Pilla) WITH KRISTINA, KODA, AND RAFAEL MALDONADO-BAD HAND AT DINK 2018. it had been a long day...

Kristina & Rafael Maldonado-Bad Hand have had a busy year. The pair of artists were married in fall of 2017. A few months later they had welcomed a new addition to their family, Koda Maldonado-Bad Hand. As if a new baby was not enough, they both have new comic series launching 2018 - the bi-monthly series Pilla from Rafael and the graphic novel Kaui from Kristina. At the Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo in April I had the opportunity to ask the two a few questions about their new books, their new áyA Studios publishing house, and how parentage and heritage play into both of their works.

The Pilla Ashcan, premiering at DINK 2018.

Neil Greenaway:  Now, just to start us off: you two are both artists, and you are a married couple. Do you ever work on the same projects?

Rafael Maldonado-Bad Hand:  Kind of. Kristina is actually helping me with the colors on Pilla. And she did the colors on the ashcan for the cover, and then for the banner. She did the colors on that as well.

NG:  But as a rule you both do your own art and writing?

Both:  Yes.

NG:  All right then, can you tell me a little bit about Pilla?

Rafael:  Yeah. It's about a seven year old girl, and she is surviving in the post-apocalyptic world. Humans are now at the bottom of the food chain. There are mutated creatures that eat us, and just about anything else. She gets separated from her dad, and she's on her own - trying to remember the lessons that he taught her. Like every child, when he was trying to teach her she was thinking, "I know better than you, I don't need to listen," but now she is finding that she really should have listened. She is figuring out these lessons on her own - she is finding out how strong of a person she really is. Meanwhile there will be little flashbacks to show her father and what he is dealing with in his hunt for her. He will also see her growth and see what kind of person she really is. The whole point of the series will be that it's not really the parents who should be seen as superheroes, it's the kids. Her father will see that in her inner strength.

NG:  You have the ashcan issue of Pilla ready to premiere at DINK and the first full issue will premiere at Denver Comic Con, is that correct?

Pilla (2018) #1, cover by Rafael Maldonado-Bad Hand.

Rafael:  That is the plan.

NG:  What are your plans in terms of this becoming an ongoing series?

Rafael:  We are already planning it as a series. I plan to release an issue every other month, so we are going to hit 6 issues a year.

NG:  Do you have a defined endpoint for the series? Do you know if this story is 6 or 12 or 18 issues?

Rafael:  No, not really. We're just going to let it keep going. What I do know is that her journey will take years, and every year she will age with us in real time. This won't be like Spider-Man or Batman where the character is permanently trapped in their twenties. We are actually going to watch her grow. I really took inspiration from The Savage Dragon. You got to witness him going through the years. His marriage, his children, his death, and then his son took over the book and we're getting to see his children and his career. It is no longer the original Savage Dragon. Now it is Malcolm, and that is what I would like to do with Pilla. I really like that concept.

NG:  That is a really cool thing for any indie book to achieve, just the longevity it takes to tell that story. Now to switch gears a little bit. Kristina, can you tell me about the new book that you have coming out?

Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand:  Sure. The book is called Kaui, and it is basically a Polynesian twist on Beauty and the Beast. This will be part of a series as well, one that I've been working on for a while. The series is called Indigenous Fairy Tales. Basically I take traditional fairy tales and themes from traditional stories of different indigenous tribes, and I try to mix them into a modern fairytale that deals with problems indigenous people have in their lives today. So while the stories take place in modern times, there are themes from the traditional stories as well as themes from the classic fairy tales.

Kaui: Beyond the Pages (2018) #1, cover by Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand.

NG:  Does this series deal only with the different Polynesian tribes, or will you bring in stories from mainland tribes as well?

Kristina:  The series will be dealing with tribes from all over. I just sort of started with Kaui because that was the first concept I had sketched out, and Beauty and the Beast made its way in because it is my favorite fairy tale. I got a lot of support for this idea and my sister actually lives in Oahu now, so that was a really big help. She was able to put together a focus group who could tell me if I was doing everything correctly on a cultural level. I've had people collaborating with me on this. It has become a larger project than what it was originally. The original release of this story I actually put out in 2013. That was the first issue. The funny thing is, when I was working with the Indigenous Narratives Collective, we needed to release something for Comic-Con. We wanted to premier something. Originally we were going to premiere Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers but that did not go through. The artists did not finish what they were doing, and it just was not happening. They asked me if I could get Kaui done, so I put together that first release in two weeks. It was kind of crazy. My lovely husband here helped me with the inks because I had to write, draw, and color a 27 page comic - in two weeks.

NG:  Wow! That schedule must have been killer!

Kristina:  It actually came out pretty good, but it was not what I had been picturing and it was not the big project that I wanted it to be. I ended up revisiting it, and now it is going to be... 100 pages?

Rafael:  Yeah. It was 64 before the additions.

Kristina:  Yeah, it started at 64 pages but then after I had done my cultural revisions and added new inks and colors... now it is 100 pages. (laughs)

Pilla (2018) #1, variant cover by Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand.

NG:  And you said this was going to be a series as well?

Kristina:  Yes, but the stories stand alone. So Kaui is a stand-alone story, and the next one will be called Kupu and it will be an Inuit version of The Little Mermaid. Then on the issue after that I have plans to collaborate with my lovely husband here.

Rafael:  I'm lovely.

Kristina:  we are going to do a Lakota Pinocchio - because I am Sicangu Lakota and Cherokee. We have a lot of stories about a spider trickster spirit named Iktomi. There are a lot of lessons about Iktomi taking the form of a real boy. Rafael actually brought up the idea of combining it with Pinocchio because for a long time I had been looking for a fairy tale that fit in somewhere with Lakota culture. I just could not figure it out, which had put that issue on the back burner. I have so many ideas for this series. I had almost every tribe matched up with a fairytale but I could not figure that one out until he suggested Pinocchio. Now I am excited for this one. It may jump up ahead of the Kupu story.

NG:  I know that you have Lakota in your lineage. Do you also have any Hawaiian lineage that is informing your need to do the Kaui story?

Kristina:  I actually do not. What happened was my sister married someone from Hawaii, and it is a culture I have always found very beautiful. I have had a lot of connections to people from that area throughout my life and it was just something I wanted to explore more of.

NG:  And then if I could go back to your Lakota heritage for just one moment, I know that you also have a set of Lakota themed playing cards that you have done the art for. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Kristina:  Yes, that was a Kickstarter project. That one originally came about because I was going to the Art Institute and one of our assignments was to create a deck of playing cards. I had designed just three cards for the class, but when my teacher saw them he said, "You should make a whole deck!" I kind of liked the idea but I wasn't sold on it. My mother, however, was like, "Yes you have to do this!" So I drew up the rest of the deck and we had the Kickstarter campaign. It was successfully funded. We are actually still getting cards out to people. Fulfillment is a whole monster that I wish I had researched before we started the campaign.

Card illustrations from the Lakota card deck by Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand.

NG:  I have heard from many people that the shipping on Kickstarter projects is the part that always gets people in trouble.

Kristina:  Oh yes! I have learned a whole bunch of lessons by running that Kickstarter. In my after-school program now, with my students I really try to hammer down both the negative and the positive sides of creative entrepreneurship. Creating art is great, but there is a business side to it - and that is something I wish I had understood more of before I ran a Kickstarter. I feel like with the production of the cards and then the shipping, I really should have had a financial manager for my first project. There are all these little check marks that I didn't realize I should be hitting until after the project had finished. Now it is 5 years down the road and this is still a monster we are dealing with.

NG:  You two both have new books coming out. Now that you have a little bit of experience with Kickstarter, have you considered crowdfunding for either of these books? Or is they going to be entirely self-published?

Rafael:  Actually, yes. Crowdfunding is something that we have been really looking at for Pilla, but because this was my first book I didn't think I would be able to raise the funding I would need. Luckily I have a friend who has just opened up his own comic store and he is helping us out with the first print run. Then I will be doing crowdfunding for the second issue. That way I have a point to jump off from instead of just nothing.

Kristina:  And Kaui is actually grant-funded.

NG:  Really? Where did the grant come from?

Kristina:  I actually can't remember the name of the grant right now... We are still in the process of getting that all worked out. (laughs)

NG:  ....but you were incredibly flattered to get the offer. (laughs)

Kristina:  Yes! We are still in the process of it, but we got it through the Indigenous Film Festival here in Denver. Jeanne Rubin does a lot of the Polynesian films, so she is helping us out by seeing what can be done with different indigenous fairy tales.

NG:  These projects are both coming out of the independent comics community. Do you both feel that the world of independent comics is a strong place to be telling your stories right now?

Character design for the Kaui graphic novel by Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand.

Rafael:  I am totally behind it, and I feel it is the best place for us to be telling our stories right now. I listen to Todd McFarlane a lot, and I know that a lot of people don't care for his attitude, but I think he is actually very brilliant. He has stated that we needed as an industry to go towards the independent. He said we needed more original characters. That people needed to stop drawing other people's stuff, and start drawing their own. His reason for that was that the two biggest comic companies are now owned by two of the biggest movie studios in the world. So if one of the smaller movie studios wants to make a comic book movie, they can't go to Marvel - because Disney wouldn't let that happen. And they can't go to DC and Warner Brothers for the same reason. So they are going to start going to the independents, and we have already started seeing that. The independent comic creators are still writing for originality. We still love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we love to see the continuing stories of the characters we all know. At the same time, we also crave original stories. I like DINK for that. I like the whole independent market for that. We are completely behind it.

NG:  And then for you Kristina, there has been a lot of talk lately about the hardship of being a woman in the comics industry. Have you personally experienced any setbacks?

Kristina:  I have. There have definitely been setbacks.

NG:  Do you think that being Native American had an effect? Do you think it made things better or worse?

Kristina:  I have faced hardships, but I wouldn't say they were any worse then what other people have gone through. In terms of getting ideas funded or books published, I might almost say being Lakota was a good thing - because it is such a popular tribe. We do have to deal with a fair amount of cultural appropriation, but it gets my foot in the door. A lot of the time as soon as I mention that I am Lakota, because there is still that Romanticism about it, people want to know more. People seem to hope that there will be something mystical about me, but that does allow me to talk more. Hopefully they actually listen to me.

Independent comics have been very kind to me and I do prefer it over the mainstream pop-culture fan-art conventions. I went through a period as an artist where I was doing prints of famous comic characters, but it was a very short time in my life because when I had started I was doing all original stuff and it sold really well. Then I started doing fan art and my sales went down. I did not do very well when I was selling prints of other people's characters, but when I do my own stuff it always sells really well. My playing cards, for instance are my best selling item.

NG:  Well those cards are awesome!

Character design for the Kaui graphic novel by Kristina Maldonado-Bad Hand.

Rafael:  I actually have the opposite problem. I had started with prints and fan art, and it sold really well. Then my sales dipped when I started doing independent stuff, but it is picking back up now that I am getting close to publishing Pilla. I have run into that. I don't really miss the fan art. There were characters that I enjoyed drawing ,and if some studio came to me and said, "Hey we would love for you to draw The Crow," *hint hint* - I would totally jump on that. But I do love my independent stuff way more. It is a lot more personal and there is a lot more heart in it.

NG:  With that in mind, do either of you pitch to publishers? Or are you happy to get your books out as self-published?

Rafael:  We do pitch to publishers everyday. It's just that we are the publishers. We have a company called áyA Studios, and we are striving to make that a publishing house.

NG:  So you actually want to be publishing other people's stories?

Rafael:  Yes, that is one of our main focuses. Let's say that you have a story that needs to be told. You would have to pitch it to us and explain to us why it needs to be told. You would have to show us it is not just another Walking Dead spinoff or a retelling of the Spider-Man story. It would need to be an original story that held some relevance in the world today. Then we can help with making that, or we can help connect writers and artists if they need that. Or if you do it all on your own we can just help you get it out there. We go the independent publishing route, we just charge a small fee for printing. That has been a primary focus for us.

Kristina:  And then we also make motion comics in a workshop with Tomorrow Maker Films. They are also going to be at DINK. They are a non-profit that is mostly made up of kids - it's about 25 kids. They write, storyboard, and film their own stories. The story they are working on is a post-apocalyptic world where basically anyone over the age of 14 is gone and so it is only children. It's got sort of a Star Wars feel to it. It is a really interesting story that they have got going on. They started this nonprofit 5 years ago with just a few kids, and it was supposed to be just one quick project. Now they have 25 kids and it is sort of an ongoing project. At any rate, we started working with them and sort of teaching them how to do comic books. They wanted their prequel to be told in a comic book format, and we are animating it as a motion comic so that it can be spliced into their film as flashbacks. Hopefully we will have a preview of all that soon.

NG:  How would you release these motion comics? Would they be available on a website?

Pilla: Issue #1, Ashcan, issue #1 variant, & prismatic print (in back).

Kristina:  Yes, on our website we have a place called Storyteller's Port - which is an online portfolio essentially. That's one of the things we wanted to do - particularly for people who have ideas for independent stories that were not as fleshed out. They could do a one-page comic and then we could animate it - almost like an animatic or an elevator pitch for their comic idea. Then they can elaborate on that, or they can come back to our website and refer to it when they are going into schools or things like that. It will always be there. That is one section of our website we are working on. The very first motion comics to go up - our premiers - would be the ones with Tomorrow Maker Films. We also want to start having motion comic classes that maybe don't have an age limit on them - but still geared towards middle school age, because I think for young kids these concepts might still be hard to understand. That said, we are definitely not against younger kids learning this stuff.

NG:  Awesome! I think that about wraps it up for us today, but I have one more question for both of you. If the people reading this want to see more of your work or follow you online, where can they look to do that?

Rafael:  We are on Facebook under createaya we are also on Instagram as well and Pinterest.

Kristina:  On Pinterest I do reading recommendations for different ages of school kids. Our content is kind of heavy on the education side of comics, so on our Pinterest there are resources for teachers. If they wanted to integrate things like pop culture or comics or games into their classrooms. Then I have my reading recommendations, and we have a couple different art lesson boards. It is worth saying that our Pinterest is not necessarily all stuff that we put out, it is just a resource center for us. Facebook is probably the best place to see our work.

Rafael:  Yeah, Facebook is the big one for us. On a personal note, I also have a Patreon under RafaelMaldonadoBadHand (all one big word). There you will see sneak peeks of things like Pilla and another book I am working on with a buddy of mine. Also there are options that will get you original art.

Kristina:  And of course our website is á That is still under construction because we are adding the whole motion comics thing, but you can still go there.

An Interview With Indie Comics Icon James O'Barr (DINK! 2018)

Written by Neil Greenaway

James O'Barr  at the  2018 Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo .

James O'Barr at the 2018 Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo.

The Crow (1989) #1 by James O'Barr.

James O'Barr is known the world over as the creator of The Crow. Everyone knows that his 1989 comic series led to a successful movie in 1994, and both versions of the story have become mainstays of the goth/emo scene. (O'Barr jokes himself that the goth "starter pack" comes with a pair of Doc Martens, a Cure album, and a copy of The Crow tpb.) The aesthetic created through James' books and art has influenced the clothing and make-up worn by decades of disaffected teens - but his impact on the world at large has been far greater than that. Through his popularity while maintaining a strictly independent publishing routine, O'Barr inspired scores of young artists to try their own hand at graphic storytelling - and with these new creators came an understanding that there was a place for tragedy and loss in their work. Not every story has to be grandly inspirational or super heroic.

I had the chance to sit down and speak with James in April when he came to Colorado for the 2018 Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo (or DINK!). We spoke about his comics, his time with Spin Magazine, and his ideal Batman story. What I found was a man who holds his satirical edge, speaks with humor & wit, and is still unapologetically doing things his own way.

Neil Greenaway: Today I am speaking with James O’Barr in cooperation with the DINK 2018 convention.

James O’Barr: What does that stand for?

Promotional poster for DINK! 2018.

NG: Not D-I-N-K (laughs). It’s the Denver Independent Comic and Art Expo.

JO: You know that’s a racial slur against Vietnamese, right?

NG: You know I have had 2 people in my life point out that it wasn’t a conventional name; you just now and when I interviewed Kevin Sorbo (in a DINK t-shirt) he said, “that’s a word I like to call people.”

JO: Yeah that’s what the soldiers liked to call the Vietnamese during the war.

NG: I did not know that.                                                                                                                                        

JO: I think it has to do with- there is a saying "dinky dow" (Dien-Cai-Dao ).

NG: I have heard that.

JO: So, they would call them dinks. So, there’s a small history lesson. It’s not nearly as bad as the ill-named SAC-Con, the Sacramento Convention.

NG: It depends on what they are celebrating there. I worked in the fetish world for a while and can tell you, there could be a Sack-Con.

JO: Scrotal-Con

The Crow: Inertia from Caliber Presents (1989) #1.

NG: We’ll avoid that one. So just to give us a quick layout, what are you doing these days in the comic book world? What have you got in the works?

JO: I have 3 books I am working on, that I have been working on for a couple of years now. I switch off between them depending on what mood I am in. One of them is very research heavy. I am doing a book on the Korean War, and you know that’s all fact based so there is a lot of in-depth research not just on the people but the weapons and the uniforms. Then I have a western that I have been working on and I thought, "Oh great I get to draw horses". But then it’s like, oh you get to draw saddles and era specific weapons. So there is a lot research in that one too. Then the third one is a new Crow book I’ve been working on with a woman this time. As well as writing stuff for other people.

NG: Would those 3 books be your writing and your art?

JO: Yeah. Actually, Jim Terry is going to work with me on the Korea book. The idea being that it’s a story about a company of Marines called Fox Company. I was in the Marines and they make you learn the whole history of the Marines in your training. So, we were told about the real 300. A time when 300 soldiers actually held off an army.  Actually, it was 289 Marines that held a mountain pass over the Chosin Reservoir in 40 degrees below zero weather against 20,000 Chinese. They had to hold it for 5 days, because there were more Marines on the other side of the mountain but there was only one way out. So, if they were to lose that position those Marines would have been trapped and probably killed. And it’s an amazing story, but unlike the Spartans, 82 of the Marines lived. I mean they were all shot to pieces but it was so cold that when they were shot their wounds froze over. It’s one of the most amazing and heroic stories I have ever read about. And Korea is the forgotten war. There are no movies on it, only a few books, no documentaries to speak of.

NG: My wife and I have spoken often of the times that M*A*S*H, while it is supposed to take place in Korea, was really more about what was happening with the Vietnam war.

Leathernecks from the 7th Marine Regiment are able to catch a few moments rest during their heroic breakout from the Chosin Reservoir on December 6, 1950. 

JO: Yeah it has nothing to do with Korea. Korea was the first Jet war. It was the first war with the M*A*S*H units, portable hospitals. And the first integrated war where blacks were allowed to fight alongside the whites. It was a very interesting time, but it was just largely forgotten. Those kids and young men were as brave as any of the men who fought in WWII. So, I thought this was an opportunity to tell one of their stories.

NG: Just to pick you brain on that briefly, I know that there was an enormous amount of heroism awarded to the men who came back from WWII and quite a bit or derision from the guys that came back from Vietnam. Do you think that Korea just got caught in the swing of that emotional shift?

JO: I think a large part of it was that it was never declared a war. It was declared a police action through the UN, and it was troops from all over the world that were part of the UN that came to fight too. But largely it fell on the Marines’ shoulders to do the grunt work, the dirty work. So, it was never declared a war and it didn’t last long. I mean, there were a lot of casualties and I think more Medals of Honor were given out in Korea than WWII. But it lasted 3 years and it was caught up in this – it seemed to the American public to be more about the UN than an actual war. Still to this day it hasn’t been declared a war, it’s a police action.

NG: So that’s where that is. Can we talk about the movie? I know when The Crow came out it was a seminal film. Each of the sequels seemed to lose something along the way.

JO: Progressively they lost more and more.

NG: Were you involved with the sequels at all? I know that you were quite vocally unhappy with them.

JO: Yeah, I had nothing to do with any of the sequels - and was against them being made even. I mean the first film had a definitive ending. There was no reason to make another film other than greed. But that’s Hollywood. Anytime something’s successful, they want more of the same. But I don’t think the people involved understood what made the first one work, or the book for that matter. That it’s a love story at heart and the violence is just ancillary. So, they just made some really misguided choices on everything.

A movie poster for the 1994 movie, The Crow.

NG: Do you think that Alex Proyas was just the right man at the right time? Because that first movie struck lightening. It seemed so perfect.

JO: Stylistically he was perfect for it. And there is something to be said... it came out at just the right time too. When America was ready to accept - it wasn’t even called ‘goth’ back then - the alternative youth kind of movement. It was a post punk, post Reagan era so there was a little bit of – like after WWII, that’s when all the film noirs happened. There was this very depressed movement in the US and it’s kind of ill defined. It wasn’t just one thing. It just came out at the right time and it’s very much of that period.

NG: Are you involved at all with the new one coming out?

JO: I am. I’m working with the director and Jason Momoa on everything and this one is not a remake of the Brandon Lee one. It’s going back to the book and it’s going to be as faithful and adaptation of the book as we can do. Obviously, it is going to be expanded some because if you just shot the book it would be an 80-minute film so we have to expand some of the characters back stories and stuff like that. But overall, it’s just going to be a really faithful adaptation of the book. Closer to Taxi Driver than the kind of John Woo violence that was in the Brandon Lee movie, that hyper stylized violence. So, I’m pretty excited about it. It starts filming in the fall. Sony’s been – it’s with Sony now, Sony Pictures – and they have been very supportive of everything.

NG: Do they understand where things went poorly the first time?

JO: I think it’s licensed jointly through Ed Pressman who made the other Crow films and Sony and I think Ed Pressman understands that the reason the other films failed is that they didn’t have my involvement. That was the one key element that for some reason they thought they could do without. Like they thought that they had the formula down for what makes a good alternative goth-dark-romance film, and it was all 60-year-old men so of course they were clueless. A bunch of gray haired old men with Maalox caked around their lips trying to decide what kids are going to like next summer and their finger not on pulse of America let’s say. So yeah Ed Pressman approached me and was very generous with everything, like what would it take to get me involved in this. It’s very favorable. Essentially, they are doing the same thing this time that they did on the first film, like here’s the money just go make your movie. So, I’m pretty excited about it.

Jason Momoa as The Crow.

NG: Perhaps you answered this, did I hear Jason Momoa is attached?

JO: Yeah Jason is the lead. He’s wanted it forever, like 2 or 3 years now.

(*Note - It was announced in May that both Jason Momoa & director Corin Hardy had left the project)

NG: I had heard some criticism that he might me too big but then I saw the makeup tests that were posted, and man - he looked great.

JO: He just finished doing all his Aquaman stuff and he is going to try to lose like 50 lbs.

NG: So, he is going to come down a little for this role?

Corin Hardy with Jason Momoa as The Crow.

JO: Yeah, he is going to slim down a little for it. And actually, I spoke to him just a couple weeks ago, I was supposed to meet him at a convention in Cleveland but he had got called back to do Aquaman reshoots and he has already lost like 25 lbs. and Warner Brothers was not happy because nothing fit anymore, and there was talk of CGI-ing his muscles back in…

NG: Did we learn nothing from the mustache?

JO: It’s Warner Brothers. If they want to piss away their money, let them.

NG: It seems to be what makes them happy. Now going back to comics just a little, I know that you have always had an affinity for Batman and - my God, you have certainly made your name in the industry - so how has that never happened? How is it that we don’t have James O’Barr’s Batman?

JO: It was supposed to happen back in the 90’s. After I did The Crow I went to DC and I met with Denny O’Neil who oversaw all the Batman books and I showed him some samples and gave him my story pitch and he said, ‘I love it, when can you start on it?’ And I told him I had this film coming out this fall, and I have agreed to do promotional stuff on it but when that’s done I can start on it in earnest. I mean I would be working on it the whole time, but after that’s done I can devote myself fully to it. So, we agreed to that. I did 30 pages of artwork. I wrote a whole script out. In the meantime, Denny O’Neil stepped down from his position as the Batman series editor and there was a new editor there. I sent my stuff in and he’s like ‘No, no, no. You can’t do this with Batman.’ You know it’s all the stuff they have done subsequently, but they were like "You know the Tim Burton movie came out and we are making Batman family friendly again", which was kind of the antithesis of what I was doing. I was making it crazy and scary and frightening and violent.

A 2016 Batman commission by James O'Barr.

NG: I have seen the pictures of your punk rock Batman, would that have been the Batman in your story?

JO: Yeah. And the idea was that it was going to be the original Batman in the 1940’s, and the thing that DC likes to forget about is that in the first 3 issues Batman used guns. He was essentially The Shadow in a different costume. He had two .45’s. So, I wrote this whole James Ellroy kind of scenario. And he handmakes his costume out of leather and wire and nails and stitches, carpet thread. So, it’s a really terrifying look. All his teeth have been knocked out from fighting so he puts in these monster dentures when he’s the Batman. I really wanted to do it. I put a lot of time and effort into it and suddenly it wasn’t what they wanted anymore. So, I abandoned it. It just sat around on the shelf for years. Then they approached me again not that long ago, maybe 10 years ago, about it because I guess somebody had found some sample pages I had done. Some copies of sample pages were in the files, and they were super interested in me doing this book now because it was different times as well. So, this time I didn’t just go in and do all this work for free. I got my agent to contact them and draw up a contract so that I wasn’t just throwing my time and energy and artwork into a blackhole, like the first time. So, we got about 4 paragraphs away from getting the thing signed when the editors at DC decided you know what, instead of taking batman in a new adult direction I think we will just kill Bruce Wayne. I was ok. That’s it, I am done with this. I will not invest anymore time or effort into this thing because it just felt like a no-win scenario. And all the things they objected to in my story have been done since. In fact, when Paul Pope was doing his Batman: Year 100, he had seen some of my pages and I’m like use whatever you want, Paul. They won’t let me do it, maybe they will let you get away with it. He ended up using stylistically some of the stuff I had come up with and that’s fine, Paul was a good friend back then. I haven’t seen him ages but he was a good friend back then. But now I see the Batman with a thousand faces thing and I’m like they took exception to what I was doing? It’s like they are letting Clive Barker write this shit and I couldn’t do James Ellroy?

NG: Do you ever see yourself working for the big 2 or are you past that in your time?

A panel from an unpublished X-Men story by James O'Barr.

JO: My issue is that I’m not going to work on anything I don’t own. Financially it just isn’t worth it to me. I’m too old to dig ditches for other people. I’ve been approached by Marvel and DC and Dark Horse to work on some of their projects, but if I’m going write it and draw it - I pencil it, ink it, letter it, I do everything by hand - and if I’m going to invest that much time and effort into it, it has to be personal and unfortunately in comics the character has to be the same on the first and last page. It has to be the same character from issue to issue. So, I don’t know that there is a lot I could bring to those characters.

NG: I have heard a lot of thoughts on stagnation taking place there because people can’t create new characters without relinquishing all ownership - so why bother?

JO: Yeah. I’ve done well with my working methods and I just don’t see anything out there that I could contribute to that would be fulfilling to me and worth the time I would have to invest in it. The Batman thing was kind of the last straw on that.

NG: Well that’s too bad. I think that would have been an awesome story. To shift gears again just a little, we spoke briefly a while ago about you getting to meet several famous bands in your time. How do those relationships come up? I know you have at least had meetings with Joy Division or members of it.

JO: New Order, yeah.

NG: And you were friends with Iggy Pop if I recall. How do those opportunities open for you?

JO: I was very fortunate, and actually it was about the time I was working on The Crow as well - that I started doing record reviews for Spin Magazine, which I don’t even know if that exists anymore. They were like the hot new music magazine. They were like what Rolling Stone used to be. I had a great editor over there, Dave Eggers who went on to bigger and better things, Pulitzer Prize winner. Michael Chabon worked there as well. But you know it didn’t really pay. It was like $30 to review a record. But you know the bonus was I would get boxes full of records for free. One of the perks of that was that if I wrote a review of a record, I would get to go interview the band when they played in Detroit. Most of these were not well-known bands, very underground or alternative bands at the time. So, they would play in a small club at the time called Saint Andrews which has a capacity of maybe 500 people. So yeah, I would go to the show and of course everything I wrote a review of I was a fan of, because I had no interest in trashing someone’s career just because the music on the record wasn’t recorded for me. And in fact, here’s an example. I got My Chemical Romance their first record deal because I guess my name got around that I was the guy to send shit to. They sent me a bunch of demo cassettes and I listened to it and it wasn’t for me. It didn’t speak to me. There wasn’t anything in it for me, but I knew there was probably an audience out there for it - so I passed it along to the people at an independent label called Eyeball Records and that was their first record contract and Gerard [Way] remembers that. He asked me to do a cover for one of his comics recently as like a thank you. I didn’t know what a nightmare it was going to be working for DC but-

Doom Patrol (2016) #8 variant cover by James O'Barr.

NG: Oh, on his new Young Animal line then.

JO: Yeah, they have switched. They moved and are now Warner Brothers Entertainment. It’s not Warner Brothers Publishing anymore and so everything is done by computers and you must be in their system. No checks are sent out, let’s say. It has to be wired to an account and so it was just like a ton of paperwork that has to be done and then someone has to enter it all into the system. It literally took me six months to get paid for a cover. I got paid for it the day it came out.

NG: Well that’s timely I guess.

JO: Yeah and I have artist friends that DC has called and asked them "Oh are you interested in working on this?" And the artist said sure, but then DC is says "Oh never mind you aren’t in the system". I can’t go through that. Hopefully they will get that streamlined in the future and make that a little easier.

NG: Yeah. I had heard not too long ago that before he got started with My Chemical Romance, Gerard was writing comics for Hart Fisher at Boneyard Press.

JO: Yeah Hart was quite the fisherman. He tried to drag everyone into his little cesspool, including me. I didn’t want to have anything to do with him.

NG: You do seem like a name that would crop up on Boneyard.

JO: Yeah. Hart was just there to outrage people and there was no point to it other than for the sake of outrage. I found pretty much everything they did easily dismissed. And worse it was poorly done. It’s like the kid who farts in class because it’s forbidden. So yeah, Gerard probably did write there.

NG: The context of my hearing that was Hart was pissed that Gerard wasn’t giving him his credit as the first publisher.

JO: I’m surprised Hart is still alive. He lured me to his house - me, Mark Bodé, and someone else - and he was literally living in an abandoned house with holes punched in the walls. And he’s watching this weird fecal porn stuff on VHS and it’s like... I wanted a shower the second I stepped out of there. But yeah, I didn’t even know he was still around.

NG: Yeah, he does a TV channel on Roku called American Horrors that runs horror movies 24/7 I believe.

JO: Well I guess he felt that his mission in life was to shock and outrage. Because there was never any substance to anything he did. So, there’s my critique of Boneyard Press. Anyhow like I was saying I got to interview all these bands like Nine Inch Nails, New Order, all these bands would play this little club and I got to hang out with them afterwards and I would give them copies of The Crow for them to read on their tour bus. I was in bands before and I know how boring it is driving from city to city to city. And so, they were all fans. I was really fortunate because none of them were famous yet.

Skinny PuppyCleanse Fold and Manipulate

NG: Did I hear that you had designed the logo for a Skinny Puppy album?

JO: I did! I never got paid or credit for it but it was just for one album - Cleanse Fold and Manipulate. They used my font but they were friends, so it was fine. They didn’t have a lot of money at the time and I always did favors for people that I liked or bands that I liked. Especially bands from around the Chicago scene. I was from Detroit and there was a really good music scene happening in Chicago in the 90’s. I would take the train down there every weekend and see all kinds of great - now legendary - bands that of course no one cared about at the time. So, it was a good time. I look back on it with a lot of fondness. And Dave Eggers was a great editor to work for at Spin. He would say, ‘I want you to review this album but I want you to tell me what it feels like, I don’t want you to mention the album once.’ And that’s a big challenge you know? To get across the emotional state this album can put you in without actually mentioning a single track on the record. So, they were good writing exercises.

NG: The next question that I have for you is, I know that in the past you’ve spoken about being mentored by Vaughn Bodé (you just mentioned his son Mark) and I know that you knew Jeff Jones. How did you get to be in that group? I ask because that group seems kind of freewheeling and hippie as opposed to your own style.

Berni Wrightson, WM Kaluta, Jeff Jones, and Barry Windsor-Smith (back)

JO: Now they are like The Beatles. Everyone looks at them as like these young gods but back then I was 15/16 years old and in reality they were struggling artists just like everyone else. I got to be friends with Bernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, and... I would like to say I was friends with Jeff Jones but there was something unknowable about him. I mean you could spend hours with him but you couldn’t dissect what he was thinking or his thought process. The only one I didn’t get along with was Barry Windsor-Smith but he was going through his own issues at the time. But yeah, Vaughn took a personal interest in me. And even though our styles are polar opposite, I learned a lot from him about staging, foreground elements, pacing and he told me about a lot of other artists to look at that were before my time. I owe Vaughn a lot. But I think thematically what I do is closer to what Jeff Jones does. There is this striving for beauty even in ugly circumstance. There can be something beautiful. Actually, I think I was like 13 the first time I met Bernie Wrightson, and it was great that for the last 15 years he was a dear friend and he considered me a peer. I could walk in the room and he would say, ‘Hi James!’ And I was just still like holy shit, Bernie Wrightson remembers me. But the thing is all of people who work in comics and musicians, we are all just regular people. We have this totally false image from what we see on TV, especially with Hollywood. I mean we all have to eat and shit and change the litter box and take the garbage out. We are all just people. For the most part any given artist that is confident in his work is happy to share, because there is nothing magic about it. They can teach you a few tricks and what tools to use and things like that but it’s not magic it’s just having a person to show you how to do it or explain how to do it.

NG: I think a lot of that goes into discipline speaking of Bernie. I probably heard him explain his cross hatching technique a million times, I’ve never seen anybody else do it. But if you want to hear the man say the words, he will say them.

A page from Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein.

JO: Yeah. Actually, I don’t think Bernie even understood how he did that afterwards. I just looked on that stuff in awe because there’s no mistakes. I saw some of the Frankenstein originals and I was like, "Where’s the white out? Where’s the place where he made a mistake? Where the ink dripped or the quill skipped?" So that was a monumental achievement. And I really admire his dedication to that project. I think it took him a span of 7 years to do all the art on that project, and he wasn’t getting paid for it. He did it in his spare time. So yeah, I envy his passion for that book. I wish I could find a book that I was that passionate about. There are books that I am passionate about but I don’t think I could add illustrations that could bring it to another level like he did. Maybe that’s just me being humble though.

NG: You know I see often online that you will post a piece and then critique it yourself before anyone has had a chance to tell you how beautiful it is. And I have to say that it’s heartening, because I know so many small-time creators - artists who are just starting who have not earned any amount of recognition yet - who will do the same thing. They put up a perfectly feasible piece of art and say, "It’s horrible because the elbow is pointed in the wrong direction or the head is an inch form the top of the page".

JO: Without a doubt we are our own worst critics. Every single drawing is a failure to some degree. That’s how we learn, that’s how we get better. And just by noticing what you are unhappy with or what you could have done better, now you know what to do the next time. There’s never been anything – you can get close, you can get 60% or 70% but you are never going to be 100% happy with anything if you are true to yourself, if you are being honest with yourself. Because you are limited by your abilities at the time. Or maybe my grandeur and imagination are bigger than my skills. But you know, I practice all the time. I get up at 8am and by 9am I am at the drawing board whether I feel like it or not because that is my job. And inevitably I start having fun. Even if it is a total failure and a mess and it goes in the trash, I have fun with it and I try to learn something from it.

NG: I think that is a fine note for us to stop on. Thank you very much for your time sir.

JO: You are very welcome!

Hellboy commission done in 2015 by James O'Barr.

Galactus/Silver Surfer  commission done in 2018 by  James O'Barr .

Galactus/Silver Surfer commission done in 2018 by James O'Barr.

Dawn commission done in 2016 by James O'Barr.

DiNKy Awards host R. Alan Brooks & James O'Barr, 2018.

A Stake Through the Art - An Interview With Charisma Carpenter (Wizard World Des Moines 2018)

Written by R. Alan Brooks

Charisma Carpenter  in the hit show  Lucifer .

Charisma Carpenter in the hit show Lucifer.

What was the 16 year old version of you like? How about the 26 year old version of you? The 36 year old version?

I’d imagine they’re all pretty different. For any of us, a decade of life experience can bring about major changes in the people that we are.

Now, imagine playing a fictional character on television for a decade; someone who isn’t quite like you. Almost inevitably, this fictional character would affect you and be affected by you, because, in some sense, you’re having the experiences and relationships that the character has.

Charisma Carpenter had just that experience, playing Cordelia Chase on the much-loved television series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Charisma took a few moments to talk with me at this year’s Wizard World Comic Con in Des Moines, IA. We joked around a bit before the interview, and ultimately, I was fortunate enough to learn a lot about Charisma as a person.

R. Alan: So Charisma, what’s been the most resonant theme in your work up to this point, career-wise?

Charisma Carpenter: Well, I think the role that resonates most with people is Cordelia. And I would have to say that it resonates with me as well, just because I embodied her for so long. I really got to live in that character, and explore her, and grow.

R. Alan Brooks  talks with  Charisma Carpenter  at Wizard World Des Moines 2018.

R. Alan Brooks talks with Charisma Carpenter at Wizard World Des Moines 2018.

R: As you grew in that role, were there elements within it that you carried into your other work?

CC: I don’t know if I can speak to that as much as... I remember a specific time on set where I told a joke, and nobody really got it (which kinda happens to me a lot.) [laughs]

And I said, “Nobody gets my humor.”

R: Okay. [laughs]

CC: And that found its way into the role. So I think, there came a point in time where Cordelia and Charisma merged. I played her for so long every day, that writers and executives would be on set, and they’d pick things from me and put it in the script.

R: I imagine that’s gratifying, that aspects of yourself; things that are important to you as a person, kinda make their way into the show.

CC: I agree that it’s gratifying. But I also appreciate how it was the other way around- how (Cordelia) influenced me- which was definitely finding my own voice and saying “no”. Being able to assert boundaries...when I was younger, I wasn’t very good at that.

And even today, James (Marsters) said to me in the photo op session, “You’re so good with boundaries.” Because someone wanted a hug, and personally for me, I’m not a hugger. I barely hug my family. [laughs]  

R: [laughs] Well yeah, that’s hard to fake, if you’re uncomfortable.

CC: It’s just hard - unless it’s on my terms and I have an authentic feeling and I wanna hug somebody, then I’ll do that. I’m not like…a robot. [laughs]

But I don’t just- it’s intimate to me. When somebody asks, I say, as lovingly and as kindly as possible, “I’m so sorry, I don’t hug people I don’t know.” And, “Thank you. But I’ll shake your hand, or fist bump you.”

Charisma Carpenter  in Scream Queens (2015).

Charisma Carpenter in Scream Queens (2015).

But I don’t press my body on other peoples’ bodies, basically, is what I’m trying to say. [laughs]

R: [laughs] Ok, well, so, are you saying that you found some of that strength…?

CC: Cordelia! Absolutely, 100%. She spoke her truth, and that really informed me as a human being.

R: Wow. Ok, so you have some years between then and now...

CC: [laughs] Yeah.

R: So you’re a different person now.

CC: Because of her, yes!

R: So now, in terms of how you approach life, and the roles you’re searching for, what is it that you look for?

CC: [laughs] Well, that’s a hot topic as an aging woman.

R: [laughs] Yeah, I guess so.

CC: Well, I don’t necessarily look for any specific thing, in the sense of (wanting) this future hypothetical character to be a kick-ass woman, or “empowered” in some way. I don’t need to do Wonder Woman. I look for something that is challenging to me, or very different. For instance, I’d never know what it’s like to be a heroin addict.

I would think that would be a very interesting thing to explore - something super different from me. I think that’s what the idea of being an actress is; just getting to slip into someone else’s skin, and do it as honestly as possible.

R: Okay, so before we started recording, you mentioned some of your philanthropy work. Can you talk a bit about that?

Charisma Carpenter photo Courtesy of Wizard World.

Charisma Carpenter photo Courtesy of Wizard World.

CC: Oh sure! Pediatric cancer is very important to me. I have a friend- my son’s best friend’s mother- (she’s) in that position where she’s not gonna make it (because of cancer).

So, cancer is a big deal to me, but really particularly as it relates to pediatric cancer, because it’s the least funded cancer (research) by our government.

Nobody really wants to talk about sick kids, because it’s uncomfortable. So, that’s important to me, and the Ronan Thompson Foundation is the way that I support that. I fund raise for them, and try to let my fame and influence direct people that way; to bring around awareness of pediatric cancer. Neuroblastoma, specifically, because I’d never heard of it before. And it’s not brain cancer, which you’d think it was.

And then the Thirst Project, which is a water charity started by young people. And it’s a human thing, not even a young people thing. But I was attracted to it, because I was so impressed by Seth Maxwell, who started it at 19, and is responsible for raising 8 million dollars in less than ten years. He activated an entire movement across the country, of young people who fund raise for the Thirst Project, and bring safe, clean drinking water around the world. I think that’s beautiful!

And the last thing is this school in Uganda, that I care about and try to fund raise for.

R: That’s a lot of stuff!

CC: I have to keep working, so I can leave a bigger dent. I think, at this point in time, and my age, I’m at a place as a realized person, where I’m growing and learning everyday how important it is to give back. And how good it feels to be an activated citizen, and be politically involved and engaged - just engaged in general.

R: Yeah.

CC: I want more wealth and work, so that I can do those things that enrich me as a person as well. It’s not enough to just be an artist anymore. So I’m highly motivated to stay working for those reasons.

R. Alan Brooks  and  Charisma Carpenter  at Wizard World Des Moines 2018.

R. Alan Brooks and Charisma Carpenter at Wizard World Des Moines 2018.

R: That’s a beautiful reason! One of the questions that I wanted to ask you- and it’s funny that you brought it to this- I spoke to two comic book creators. One of them was talking about, in this divided society, how he thinks it’s important to always communicate some type of message in his art, like just essential humanity, or being a good person. The other guy said that he felt like it was his responsibility to just entertain people, so that they have some type of escape.

CC: Sure.

R: So my question to you is, where do you fall on that, and how does it affect the kind of work that you want to do?

CC: I think when you are an entertainer, by proxy, you are uplifting - and I didn’t know that at (first). It certainly wasn’t for the masses that I chose to become an actor [laughs]

Like, “Let me give my gift to you people!” [laughs] That’s not how it was at all. I was just honoring my gifts as a person, and I was fortunate enough to be able to make a living doing that. And it seemed right and true.

I don’t know that there are a lot of people that get to have that. So I feel very blessed, for sure. But now, as an adult in entertainment - not an adult entertainer...[laughs]

R: [laughs] That is an important distinction.

CC: It is. [laughs] I feel like, it feeds my soul to act. I know that, for sure. But, there’s something really magical and transcendent about being able to pay it forward.

R: That’s really beautiful.

CC: So, I’m very wealthy in that regard - that I get to do that. Now, I want to keep doing it!

R: I hope you do. Thank you for taking a moment to talk to me!

CC: Thanks, Alan. It was fun!

You can check out some of Charisma’s favorite charities here:

This interview was made possible by a collaboration between Nerd Team 30 and R. Alan Brooks’ podcast: Comics & Activism: Mother F**ker In A Cape- The Social Justice Geek podcast. For the audio version of this interview, plus some additional portions not included in this article, keep an eye out for future episodes of Comics & Activism: Mother F**ker In A Cape- The Social Justice Geek podcast.


R. Alan Brooks

Raised in Atlanta and now a Denver resident, Alan is a writer, musician and host of the popular “Mother F**ker In A Cape” comics podcast, which interviews marginalized members of the geek world. Alan writes educational children’s comics and “The Adventures of Captain Colorado” for Pop Culture Classroom (the non-profit that stages Denver Comic Con). He is the writer and creator of “The Burning Metronome”, a supernatural murder mystery graphic novel.

What the Future Holds: An Interview With Nichelle Nichols (Wizard World Des Moines 2018)

Written by R. Alan Brooks

Nichelle Nichols.

Nichelle Nichols.

If you’ve ever imagined the future, chances are, your vision of that future has been influenced in some way by Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry’s 1960s space-traveling television show. Although it’s spawned a number of offspring, the original series has been credited with an array of cultural achievements, from inspiring the design of flip-phones, to featuring the first interracial kiss on television.

The original series presented a multi-ethnic cast, in a time when that didn’t exist on television, and barreled head-first into such explosive topics as war, racism and sexism (even as its women characters sported mini-skirts- it could be argued that Roddenberry’s wasn’t a perfect vision of the future. But few could assert that it wasn’t trying to be).

Lt. Uhura and Captain Kirk share an embrace, and a kiss.

But that momentous kiss: the significance of that moment can’t be understated.

We often hear from one of the participants of that kiss, William Shatner, who is often parodied for his large personality and distinct manner of speech, and who was also the actor who played Captain Kirk. But the other historical smoocher was Nichelle Nichols, who played the steadfast Lieutenant Uhura on the show.

Nichelle, now 85 years old, graciously gave me a moment of her time for a conversation at this year’s Wizard World Comic Con in Des Moines, IA. She was, as I expected, full of grace- almost floating into the convention center upon a cloud of regality. But she surprised me with her sense of humor.

After I thanked her for granting me the interview, and joked with her about her role in the Blaxploitation flick Truck Turner, we talked about a friend of mine, a jazz drummer who’d gone to high school with her. Eventually, I swallowed my nervousness, and asked her some questions, to which she gave friendly responses.

R. Alan: So, you’ve done Star Trek and you’ve been in this geek world for a long time. One of the significant things to me, as a black child going to these conventions, was that there were no other black people. I couldn’t even buy black Vulcan ears when I was a kid.

Nichelle Nichols: No kidding?

R. Alan Brooks  with  Nichelle Nichols  at Wizard World Des Moines 2018.

R. Alan Brooks with Nichelle Nichols at Wizard World Des Moines 2018.

R: But now it’s changed, so it’s great to see. As you look back over your career and all the things you’ve been able to do, what are some of the most important things that stand out to you?

NN: I think all of it is. Everything. Because I meet new people all of the time. Everybody has a different light. I’m fascinated with what a lot of people do, because I know what I do, and it’s fascinating to people (too). What I like about meeting so many people is that you find out all the different things that are out there that people do for a living. For real. And I like that. I like sharing with them. They tell me what they do, and I go, “Aha!” And then they want to know what I do; all about where I come from, and so forth. Where I’m coming from. And so we all- both sides - get to say, “Aha!” [laughing]

R: With the new Star Trek series, with a black woman as the lead…

NN: I haven’t seen it yet. Who is it?

R: She’s from The Walking Dead, Sonequa Martin-Green, and it’s called Star Trek: Discovery.

NN: Oh yes! I’ve heard of it!

R: For you, starring in the original with Roddenberry, and just being able to sort of pioneer... and now we have a black woman leading the new Star Trek, it’s kind of an amazing thing.

NN: Yeah, I think it’s wonderful, because you don’t just keep doing it like that. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. [Motions with her hands to signify repetition]

R: Ha, that reminds me, I read years ago that you put out an album.

NN: Yeah.

Nichelle Nichols  as  Lt. Uhura  in Star Trek.

Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura in Star Trek.

R: Cuz I know everybody from the cast was doing that back then. I’ve never been able to find your album.

NN: I don’t know where it is. Probably at home. [laughs]

R: [laughs] What kind of music was it?

NN: I do all kinds of music. So I don’t know which one you’re talking about.

R: So you did a few?

NN: Yeah.

R: Ok. Do you still sing when you have an opportunity?

NN: Do you still breathe? [laughs]

R: [laughs] I hear you. It’s a big part of you.

NN: Oh yes, yes!

R: Well, I was wondering, because the guy that we know in common is Eugene Bass, he’s the jazz drummer. So I met him when he was 75. He was still playing drums in Denver. Yeah, he’s probably 82 now...

NN: You never stop. Unless you want to. I take off some time and go thatta-way. But it always takes me back to what I love, and this is that: doing what I do. I love it. And I’m happy with it.

R. Alan Brooks  talking with  Nichelle Nichols  at Wizard World Des Moines 2018.

R. Alan Brooks talking with Nichelle Nichols at Wizard World Des Moines 2018.

R: I’m glad to hear that.

NN: I am, too! [laughs]

R: Is there anything new that you’re working on that you want to discuss?

NN: Yeah, but I can’t talk about it yet. [laughs]

R: Well, that’s good stuff. Top secret. [laughs]

NN: Ha, well, it’s not so much that it’s top secret, as it’s not yet going where I want it to go. I’m thinking of doing a few things that I haven’t done yet. And a few things that people are bugging me for. [laughs]

R: So we’ll keep an eye out. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I really appreciate it.

NN: The pleasure’s mine.

You can check out some of Nichelle Nichols’ music here:

This interview was made possible by a collaboration between Nerd Team 30 and R. Alan Brooks’s podcast: Comics & Activism: MFIAC- The Social Justice Geek podcast. For the audio version of this interview, plus some additional portions not included in this article, keep an eye out for the next episode of Comics & Activism: MFIAC- The Social Justice Geek podcast.

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R. Alan Brooks

Raised in Atlanta and now a Denver resident, Alan is a writer, musician and host of the popular “Mother F**ker In A Cape” comics podcast, which interviews marginalized members of the geek world. Alan writes educational children’s comics and “The Adventures of Captain Colorado” for Pop Culture Classroom (the non-profit that stages Denver Comic Con). He is the writer and creator of “The Burning Metronome”, a supernatural murder mystery graphic novel.

An Interview with Doctor Erin Macdonald, Astrophysicist (Starfest Denver 2018) [Video + Transcription]

Written by Mary Andreski


At the Denver Starfest Convention 2018 I had the chance to sit down and chat with Doctor Erin Macdonald (the astrophysicist behind Dr. Erin Explains the Universe) about science and science fiction.

I have had the opportunity to work with Dr. Macdonald while I was the programming coordinator for Fort Collins Comic Con. She runs an awesome track of science panels at conventions throughout the county each year. It was great getting a chance to speak more in depth with her about her background, work, and outreach she has to bring science into the sci-fi and pop culture communities.

Mary Andreski: I am here for Nerd Team 30 at the Starfest Convention with Dr. Erin Mcdonald. If you could go ahead and introduce yourself and just a little bit about your background.

Dr. Erin Macdonald: I'm Dr. Erin Mcdonald and my background is in Astrophysics and I did my doctorate with the Lago Collaboration - searching for gravitational waves for things like dead neutron stars and colliding black holes, which is really awesome. I actually left the collaboration before they made their detection, which is fine. Now I work as an aerospace engineer and I also work as a consultant, helping writers with their science fiction as well as coming to these (conventions) and teaching about the science behind science fiction.

MA: So, what spurred you into the comic and science fiction world and why did you combine your career with that or vice versa?


Dr. Erin: I’ve always been a sci-fi fan anyway, which helps. While I was kind of working on my PhD thesis I was putting off writing it, and I was like, "I bet I can calculate how a warp drive works". So I tried to calculate how a warp drive works and did. At the same time I was starting to attend a lot of conventions just as a thing, and a few of them had science tracks. Not many, but a few did. So I started giving talks that were very science focused - just pure gravitational waves and astrophysics talks. Then I started to get more interest. I started talking about the science of Mass Effect. It was a really big one for me because the science is so expansive and interesting in that game. I found over the years that it was a great way to reach out to people and teach science in a different way. You get people at these conventions who they really are interested in science but don’t have a background in it. They love being able to make those ties between their popular culture and learn some real science behind it. It's great too, because kids get engaged as well.

MA: So you were saying that you were always interested in science fiction. Is that what brought you into science in the first place?

Dr. Erin: I never really had a real life mentor - as it were - as I wanted to get into science. I actually grew up watching the X-Files, so I had Dana Scully. And I loved aliens. For me being able to see a red headed woman, you know, don a lab coat and fight aliens was awesome. So, that's what kind of got in my head. I wanted to be an astrophysicist. Not even kidding, I literally found out Dana Scully had her undergraduate degree in astrophysics and I went, "Oh, thats a real degree. I want to do that degree". There's a straight line for me between Dana Scully and becoming an astrophysicist. So, yeah.

MA: What’s your favorite part of giving talks at conventions and bringing this knowledge from the science world to the outer world?

Dr. Erin: I think for me its meeting the people. People are so engaged, they’re so enthusiastic. You know, if you’ve been to these convention before you know how friendly people are, it really is a sense of family. But for me the most rewarding thing is when I get kids come up to me afterwards. I don’t know if you saw at the end of mine (panel earlier) there was a girl who came up and she just said, “This is great I get to meet a real scientist and I always wanted to be a scientist.” If people are able to see themselves in me or kids get excited about maybe becoming a scientist because they see a woman with tattoos, and think I like tattoos and I like science, maybe I could do that one day. That’s really my big reward.

MA: What would be some of your advice for someone who is aspiring to be a scientist if they have no idea where to start, or if there's so many options that they just get overwhelmed by the choices?

Dr. Erin: I think for young kids who are maybe are going through a high school or going into college it's just ask questions and do everything. I started out wanting to maybe be a biologist. I learned really quickly that was not my thing. But I loved space, and so I started to do more space. I started to do research in space just as I went through my undergraduate career. And I was able to find stuff that clicked. You know I ended up also with a math degree just by taking math classes. It was so cool that I wanted to learn more (about space). So it's keeping that curiosity, keeping that enthusiasm.

For people who might be later career, or second career I think what it really is - don’t be afraid to jump in and don’t be afraid to ask for help. People who are in science love science and are always happy to talk about it. So asking those questions and keeping that curiosity is really important.

MA: Now you come to conventions, do you have other ways of bringing your knowledge to the outside world? Do you have a website, do you have a podcast, things like that?


Dr. Erin: Yeah, so online I’m @drerinmac on Twitter and I do a lot of science outreach on Twitter. Actually last year, because of all these conventions I started a Youtube channel. It's called Dr. Erin Explains the Universe. I put out a chunk of episodes and I am filming a bunch more now that will be coming out later this year. It's just short videos on the science behind science fiction. I take questions from people, they give me ideas for new talks. Some of them are more science, some of them are more science fiction. I just think its a great way to reach out to people.

MA: Are you going to be at any upcoming conventions in the area or across the country in the near future that you know of yet?

Dr. Erin: So, I’ve done a few already this year. I did Emerald City Comic Con, I also did Awesome Con. I’m here at Starfest and it looks like I will be at Fort Collins Comic Con here in Colorado as well as Dragon Con out in Atlanta. That’s all I have now. There's a few more I’m still talking to. I usually do about a half dozen a year. It’s fun.

MA: As far as examples and role models, you mentioned Scully was one to you. Is there anyone else, whether real or fictional that's inspired you in your life? Not necessarily in your career choice, but just inspired you to keep going?

Dr. Erin: Yeah, for me, its Captain Janeway. (Laughs, points at star trek badge on her shirt) “Captain Janeway represent.” Honestly, I didn’t discover Star Trek until later in life. My family wasn’t into it. I didn’t have a lot of friends in school who were really into it. As I went through high school into college that's kind of when Voyager was airing its run. Oh man, I got hooked. I just felt an instant connection with Captain Janeway. To the extent that I actually dedicated my PhD thesis to her. You know, for me, I was so lucky to find women who inspired me even though they were fictional. Honestly, going through graduate school, going through undergrad, being a scientist in general can be really hard and lonely sometimes. So it's good to have mentors real or fictional, that you know. I will just burn out and put on a Voyager episode and go, “Okay now, I can do this.”  That's really important to me. So I see the value in science fiction, I see the value of having representation. You know, for anyone. If they’re able to see themselves in characters and connect  it goes a long way towards pushing them and inspiring them.


MA: As a closing question what would be some of your hopes as far as where you would like to see science go?

Dr. Erin: Obviously I would like warp drive. That’s the goal. You know Star Trek managed it about 2060-ish. So yeah, we’re hoping on that. But you know I think there’s so much out there. What I’d really like to see, what I’m excited about, is more gravitational wave discoveries. Because that’s allowing us to really - I use it as an analogy of almost hearing our universe whereas we’ve always looked at our universe. Now we have a different way of doing that, so I’m excited what we learn with that. I’m also excited with what we are learning with Quantum physics. Quantum entanglement and how we can start using that in our technology. So, I’m curious to see where it goes. And Warp Drive.

MA: Well, Thank you so much for your time and its been a pleasure listening to your talks and hearing you inspire those around you.

Dr. Erin: Thank you, I appreciate it.

Afua Richardson Talks About Her Music, Her Art, and Her Mermaids at ACE Comic Con AZ

Written by Ryan Hall

Afua Richardson at Ace Comic Con Arizona 2018.

Afua Richardson is a comic artist, a musician, and so much more. She made a big splash in the comics world in 2016-2017 by providing covers to Black Panther: World of Wakanda, Totally Awesome Hulk, Captain Marvel, All-Star Batman, Genius, and X-Men '92 - and she has long been rumored to be attached as the artist for a new Blade title from Marvel. Nerd Team 30 contributor Ryan Hall had the chance to sit down and talk with Afua at the recent ACE Comic Con AZ. The resulting conversation reveals a woman far more wise than her "rising star" status might imply. Her new Aquarius project looks beautiful and I personally can not wait to see what she does next. From the sound of this interview, it could be anything.

Ryan Hall: All right so the #1 question: inquiring minds want to know, who is Docta Foo?

Afua Richardson: (Laughs) Docta Foo is Afua Ricahrdson. I am a comic book artist, a musician, a writer, just a Jane of all trades.

RH: You do have an extensive background in performing arts. Is it true you have performed at Carnegie Hall?

AR: Yes, at age 11 I was a classical flautist. I started at 9 and by 11 I joined a borough-wide band that performed at Carnegie Hall and I was accepted to LaGuardia for performing arts. While at LaGuardia I attended Julliard. Our school was adopted by Julliard and so part of the day we would be at Julliard. Learning from the teachers there was almost like a mentoring program and was a fantastic time. We were exposed to professionals, went to Marcellus, I met Tito Fuentes when he was still alive and just other amazing, amazing creators.

Captain Marvel (2014) #13 Women of Marvel variant, cover by Afua Richardson.

Then I decided I don’t want to be a classical musician, this is not what I want to do. I joined an all-female hip-hop crew. They were like break dancers and MC’s. I just discovered underground hip-hop - it was philosophical, it was like poetry, it was jazz infused and I was like, "this sounds amazing". I was their female human beat-box artist because I would read sheet music and sometimes we would have to sight sing, is what it was called. You would read the music, you have never seen it before, and you would (melodically reads out beats). It was very percussive and maybe that lent to beats but that’s what I ended up doing. I mimic drums and animals and birds and all sorts of things. I started to mimic singers and then I became a singer. So I went on tour as a background singer, toured Europe, performed with Sheila E. I always draw a blank when it comes to the artists because they are so amazing that you kind of have to remind yourself ‘Oh my God, they are right there and what am I even doing here? I play classical flute what am I even doing here?’ But John legend, Alicia Keys, Parliament Funkadelic, Sierra, TI, Outkast, I was on Soul Train. I was on Jimmy Fallon with this artist Har Mar Superstar who was amazing and hilarious and super talented. It was a lot of fun. Some of these you can find on YouTube. But I think at age 26 or so I was drawing. I had already been going to comic conventions and anything I did I was like, "I really love doing this, I want to be good at this, this is what I love". I nerd out about this stuff. I don’t want to half way do it, because when I was younger I was really shy and I didn’t really trust what I said or what I thought. I was very self-conscious, but I trust what I made. Reading comics, Swamp Thing, or even getting back into it in the 90’s with early Top Cow stuff like Fathom or Witchblade, you know the embarrassing time of comics but it was in its adolescent phase and we loved it anyway! Even manga like Blade of the Immortal- (Can-Can plays over the convention intercom) Can-Can!

RH: Well that was another one of your talents right? Back-up dancer?

AR: (Laughs) For a little bit. Gosh I keep forgetting like MTV Jams, they had like background dancers. Oh my gosh that’s right like BET, MTV Jams they had like a modern day Soul Train! They had like background dancers - so I wasn’t a professional by any stretch of the imagination but I loved dancing. Like I actually loved going to raves and I loved mosh pits and I loved metal and going to those parties, because they were just so high energy. I loved Deftones and Stone Temple Pilots. They were actually very heavy vocal influences. I loved Chris Cornell’s scream, I wish I had that gravelly timber to my voice. Later on I started doing more like RB and soul and things like that I started getting involved in a music duo. It was me and another girl - it was called ScarletBlu, and it was kind of like pop-soul. I guess I sounded a little bit like Lauren Hill, which is what I got back and is a huge compliment. If I’m compared to Lauren Hill I’m not doing too bad. Like a jazzy Lauren Hill is what I got compared to. So they were like "let’s put you with a rapper, let’s get you out there doing this pop R&B stuff" and I was like, "ah, well I really like rock and soul and I love No Doubt, like that reggae-ska kind of stuff". Like if I wanted to do pop, I would want it to be more like that but that’s not where the industry was at that time and there weren’t artists like Thundercat or Flying Lotus which were more eclectic. They would ask me not to mention Bjork or infuse any of my other more non-black influences to my voice.

X-Men '92 (2016) #1 Hip-Hop variant, cover by Afua Richardson.

I was also inspired by Stevie Wonder, who I also had the opportunity to sing with just by a random chance - not even on stage. I worked at a Sam Ash in New York City right on 48th street and he would come in and test pianos. It was before they had like whole sound modules, so what he would do is he would come into the store like close to closing and he would go through all of the sounds on a particular keyboard. This must have been in like 2001 or something like that, maybe 2000. So one time I am walking through the store, I had already met him before and he’s playing Tuesday Heartbreak and I’m carrying some boxes, I’m way in the back and I didn’t think he could hear me (maybe he has super hearing, maybe that is his super power - beyond making incredible music). I’m singing the chorus of Tuesday Heartbreak but I don’t know all the words to it but he hears me and says ‘Afua is that you? Come on up here and sing this.’ I’m like, "oh my God why didn’t I pick another song to sing?" So I’m singing Tuesday Heartbreak while Stevie Wonder is playing like a Roland Phantom Keyboard and I’m thinking, "oh my God, this is amazing! I have to take a picture of this". I had a disposable camera there were no cell phone cameras at the time. I knew this was one of the moments that I want to remember forever, because he was just so prolific and he just poured his heart into his music and anyone could listen to it and feel the emotion from it.

With all the music I performed and played the visual aspect of it never separated, like it was never a separate thing. Whenever I listened to classical music I would see images in my mind. Or when I read comics I would listen to the soundtrack of my mind. Like, what would be going along with this Excalibur comic or what would go along with Conan? There would be like a symphony orchestra, there would be like techno, there would be all these different things. So it only made sense that I continued to do both. A lot of people told me to pick one, and for a long time maybe that is really necessary and that is what I needed to do because you can’t divide your time too much. Each craft takes an incredible amount of time and skill to focus. Just like a plant, you need to cultivate it and water it and if you divide your resources then it is not going to be as strong as it could be. But when I didn’t make music I started to get sad. Or when I wasn’t drawing, something in me just didn’t feel complete.

So at one point I was doing the background singing and going on tour and they were very temporary gigs and didn’t feel very stable. I got a gig with Melvin Van Peebles. If you don’t know, he is responsible for all of the Shaft, Foxy Brown - all of those films - and his film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song that he wrote and stared in. But he was like a WWII pilot, taught himself French - and he said one day he was flying over the ocean with the atom bomb as his cargo and he heard a voice. And he makes this face looking up as if he heard this divine voice. He said the voice said ‘Melvin, get your black ass out of the military.’ So he was due to re-enlist and he decided he served his time and he wasn’t going to get back into it. Everyone else who was on the battalion with him didn’t survive - except for his commanding officer, who was like "oh that boy is slick, that voice was right, get out now". But he decided to pursue his passion. He thought now that he had seen what the worst of life has to bring, it has to get better than this.

Genius (2014) #1, cover by Afua Richardson.

Genius (2014) #1, cover by Afua Richardson.

So he was like I don’t know how to make a film but I am going to make one today. I don’t know French but I’m going to learn it. And he got all these awards. At the time there weren’t any major films starring black leads that had roles that weren’t like butlers, waiters, slaves. I guess that was just a reflection of the time. So he didn’t get upset about it, he just got creative. His film was very political, very sexually charged, there was a lot going on. Basically he encounters 2 police officers who are beating up this guy, he stops the cops but kills them by accident so he is on the run for the rest of the film. It was such a success at the box office. It had never been seen or done before at the time, and they wanted to replicate it without all the politics. So someone had asked him ‘Aren’t you upset that your films are being remade without the essence and the core of what the issues are?’ and he was like ‘No I’m not. My objective was I wanted to see brown faces employed. That was it. I wanted to see more people who looked like me behind the screen. They have a job. What they decided to do with it, that is fine. I don’t need to have every moment of my life permeated by civil rights issues. I want to live my life being happy. I have friends who are not black. I have a life that is outside of this oppression and the only freedom is existing without being constantly afraid of what people think.’

Then I looked around his house and he had all these awards, and he had all this different sheet music that was noted with intervals instead of actual notes. He didn’t know sheet music, but he knew the distance between the actual notes - so whatever the bass line was,  that would be like one mark and so on. And he scored an entire film with Earth, Wind and Fire (the local band at the time) to soundtrack his film. Then I was looking through some pages and I was like ‘oh this is a great graphic novel. Who drew this?’ and he was like ‘I did.’ I was like ‘What?! Melvin didn’t anyone ever tell you, you shouldn’t do all these things at once. That you should just pick one or two and focus on those?’ And he said ‘That’s because it’s difficult.’ I was like ‘Yeah that’s why they tell you not to do it.’ He said ‘Well if it were talking and walking then it wouldn’t be a problem. No one would warn you 'oh you shouldn’t walk and talk at the same time, that’s dangerous'. Because it’s difficult it makes them feel bad that they haven’t put forth the effort to be a scholar and a warrior and an artist and a poet but you can be all those things. You just have to divide up those 24 hours that you have and say I’m going to decide to do this. I’m going to decide to carve time for myself. Whatever job I am working I have to make time for me because this is my life and I’m never going to be this person again. So you have to decide who you are going to be.’

So it doesn’t matter where you come from. I mean there was a point in my life when I didn’t have a place to live. I went from eating Wonder Bread and wondering where my next meal was to drawing Wonder Woman. I taught myself how to draw and being inspired by people like him who are like yeah, people say I shouldn’t do that but people say a lot of things. They keep talking, I’m going to get to work. You know people can get upset that there is not enough diversity in comics but they could start drawing. They can support what’s there. They can honor what is and just see it as an opportunity instead of a slight. It’s like you know we all have our struggles, we all have our problems. Nobody’s life is easy. Even wealthy people, they have a lot to manage. Money is not going to fix whatever is wrong with their heart or their philosophy and they still have to manage and maintain all that. So I want to with my artwork maybe give different perspectives with just the things that I have learned and just put it out there and see what comes back.

RH: Absolutely. It sounds like for you that a lot of the different arts that you are involved in feed into each other. Maybe you take inspiration from other things you are doing for your drawings.

AR: Absolutely. And I’m working on a project right now that I can’t announce yet. But after that, I am working on Aquarius: The Book of Mer which will be a modern retelling of mermaid myths and legends from all over the world. I’m doing a lot of research right now. I have my work cut out for me. It will involve the Ningyo in Japan, the Selkie in Scotland - there are so many and some of them are creepy and scary. Even Melusine (the Starbucks mermaid), is kind of creepy - don’t know why she is on coffee.

Aquarius: The Book of Mer banner illustration.

RH: I never ever thought about that but there are different mermaids from around the world.

AR: Yeah, and I was just like, "man why didn’t I ever know about this? Why aren’t there stories?" And I thought, "oh well, there is an opportunity, I’ll tell the story. That is fine." I planned on getting started for May in 2018 but I am going to start a Patreon, and so I’ll just drip the content one page at a time until I have enough for a book. Maybe I can make some music for that and do like a Reading Rainbow style of read-along with the story and narrate and have voice over and do songs. Some of them, like Ningyo of Japan, they don’t have voices. They have flute like sounds which is perfect because I have played the flute for 20 years. So I am going to like over-dub their voices and warp the flute for sound and turn them into these creepy siren whale songs and make it more of an experience.

I had a really great experience at the last Ace Comic Con. I was sitting with a family in the hotel lobby and we were chatting about pink brass knuckles with like tasers at the end. And we were like, "How does that work?" Then we started talking about MMA and this guy overheard that I was working on a commission. He said ‘Hey are you guys artists?’ I was like ‘most of us are. That is the creator of Rocket Raccoon, Coleen Duran was working on Wonder Woman since 1988 and I am the artist on Black Panther: Wonderful World of Wakanda.’ He was like ‘Oh my god! My friend is such a huge fan of Wonderful World of Wakanda - I have to tell him. He couldn’t really make it to the show,’ and I was like ‘aww man that is too bad.’ He said ‘oh yeah he is going to die when tell him.’ So he sent him a text message and he was just so upset that he had to go to work he couldn’t make it to the show. Then I was like ‘Hey you know what, let’s send a video message to your friend and say hey it’s for Richard or whatever. Really wish you were here. Sorry you couldn’t make but we just wanted to send you well wishes.’ He was like ‘Really you do?’ and I was like ‘yeah it will take me like 10 seconds and your friend couldn’t make it and he is bummed out about it.’ I would be bummed too. This man’s son was so moved by it that after they went upstairs he came back downstairs to tell me that his son is really into the Justice League movies but he couldn’t get him to read anything. He just wasn’t interested. Then when he saw what I did and heard who I was he said ‘aww that was really nice of her. She makes comics? I want to make comics.’ So the next day he bought his first comic book ever from me and I was like oh my God! That is amazing. So it made me think, I understand media competing nowadays and books might not be as engaging as the other forms of media for kids and not all of these stories are going to be for kids, but the ones that are that are a little more general audience it might be fun to have something a little more interactive that might pull readers in like, "this is a cool video, it’s like 3 minutes and it explains a piece of the story, I want to read the rest of it". So he was also part of my inspiration for that.

Black Panther_World Of Wakanda (2017) #2, cover by Afua Richardson.

RH: Bringing in other media. That is kind of how comics started by bringing in the illustrations to grab a younger audience. That is smart, it’s brilliant. You mentioned that you were a big fan of Swamp Thing, did you start with the Alan Moore run?

AR: Yes. I had no idea what was going on but I loved it. And I loved the drawings and illustrations. I was like, "man this is deep this plant is seriously depressed, I get him". You know in this cross over universe, Swamp Thing and Poison Ivy, why has that not happened?

RH: That’s a good question. We are still waiting for that one. Do you think that is why your material is more adult because you were interested in more mature comics?

AR: I think so. I was really into Heavy Metal magazine also. That was my introduction to Moebius, just that art style. I love sci-fi and really techy, ornate, psychedelic really culty type stuff - and that was really introduced there for me. It let me know it wasn’t just a kids medium with super heroes and powers, which are awesome I am not discounting that. But it can have really, really advanced concepts as well and still be embraced and I thought, "wow this is great". It really covers the gambit.

RH: I know we have taken quite a bit of your time, but I wanted to touch on one thing, can you tell us about The Ormes Society?

AR: The Ormes Society. Jackie Ormes was the first black illustrator to be recognized for her talents and what the Ormes Society does is sort of feature female black artists or just female artists in the industry and educate the public on who they are where they can find them to support their work.

RH: That is awesome. You are involved in the Society as well right?

AR: Yeah, they made me an honorary member and they feature and support my work very prominently. There are some really great gals over there and they are really supportive. So when they let me know and educate me on other artists I should know I try to spread the word.

RH: That is awesome. Did you have anything you would like to add? Any advice for fans? Or anything just in general?

AR: Learn your craft and learn the business too - because you don’t want to be stuck asking questions after you have already signed a contract. And just enjoy what you do. It is not going to be perfect until like the 20th one - and it’s never going to really be perfect. You’re always going to be chasing this dream. Adam Hughes is constantly evolving because he is always critiquing himself, but don’t critique yourself into obsolescence. Allow yourself to make mistakes. You are not going to start doing backflips one day and suddenly become on Olympic gymnast the next. Be patient with yourself while creating. As you go along, complete things. Let yourself complete smaller goals, smaller tasks. Everyone is going to have that magnum opus that they want to create. You are never going to be able to finish it in time. Break it up into smaller pieces. Make it achievable.  And it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the money or the means, you’ll make it happen, you will find a way. You have heard that saying that when the student is ready the teacher will arrive? That is absolutely true. When you are really ready to put in those work hours like drawing every single day of your life, then you are ready to do comics.

Aquarius: The Book of Mer teaser from Afua Richardson.

RH: That is great advise. So other than the things you have mentioned what do you have planned for the future going forward?

AR: Well Aquarius: Book of Mer is primarily my next focus after the secret project but becoming a better writer and a better artist overall. I want to do more storytelling on my own. I don’t know maybe I will write a Marvel story one day about all the blue folks. Nightcrawler, Mystique, Beast, why are they all blue? Like what’s the deal with that?

RH: Great question.

AR: Even throw vision in there, he’s purple, and She-Hulk and Hulk, they’re green. What’s with all of these different colored folks. Just do a fun kind of silly book about that. Or like a Road Warrior story about Storm going cross country on a motorcycle. I don’t know.

RH: That would be interesting, absolutely. Well Afua, thank you for your time. We really appreciated talking to you. 

All-Star Batman (2016) #1 My Parents Basement variant, cover by Afua Richardson.

Afua Richardson at Ace Comic Con Arizona 2018 (2).

Totally Awesome Hulk (2016) #2 Incentive variant, cover by Afua Richardson.