Scott Finch is an artist exploring an existential terrain in his paintings and comics. You can read my review of his new book here. This is an exciting time with the new book available in print as well as being serialized over at our friends at Solrad. In this interview, we discuss his latest book, a graphic novel, that is a mashup of end time fables and a satire on consumer culture. What immediately follows are some additional notes on this new book, The Domesticated Afterlife, proceeded by a transcript to our conversation. You can also view a video podcast of the interview.
Tag Archives: Magic
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to interview writer and graphic novelist Jeremy Holt. His most recent works include After Houdini, Skip to the End, Skinned (Insight Comics), Southern Dog (Action Lab), and Pulp (comiXology), which IGN has called, “…one of the best one-shot comics of the year.” For this interview we try to cover a bit of everything with a focus on Holt’s most recent title, Before Houdini.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Jeremy, thank you so much for doing this interview. We’re going to focus on Before Houdini, your latest title with Insight Comics as well as do our best to bring out something about you and your creative life. I’ll start with the introduction by comic book writer Matthew Rosenberg for Skip to the End, another work you did with Insight Comics. In his introduction, Rosenberg talks about the urgency of punk rock and indie comics: both are raw and unfiltered. That brings to mind your one-shot, Pulp. I think, in the end, whatever the genre, whatever the vibe, you want your work to be honest, right?
JEREMY HOLT: First of all, thank you for having me, Henry. Over the last ten years of making comics, I’ve thought a lot about the stories that I want to tell. I think, at the beginning, most creators go for those big bright ideas that might get them noticed. I was guilty of that. For instance, I tried doing a zombie story, not realizing that market was pretty saturated. In the course of finding collaborators and pitching to publishers, I’ve found myself taking ten steps backward and having to re-evaluate myself, as a writer and a creator, and really thinking about those stories I want to tell. So, yes, honesty is a very important factor for me.
Share with us how you go about creating a multi-layered character like Jonny, in Skip to the End. He’s got a lot of rough edges. He comes from a certain subculture. And yet people can relate with him. Or maybe sometime from Skinned or After Houdini, whatever comes to mind.
For me, usually it starts with a concept. That’s usually how my ideas begin, with a concept that seems like a really cool idea. Then, from there, I start to develop the main characters, the cast if you will, and then the plot. If those three things don’t actually connect, even after thinking about them for days, weeks, months, I tend to move on. So, as far as characterization, that’s an ongoing process as I’m writing the stories. What I like most about a lot of the projects that I’ve worked on that have resonated with the readers is that, at a certain point, if you’ve done your job as a writer and figured out who these characters are, where they come from, where they’re trying to go, at some point during the writing process, they actually start making their own decisions and speak for themselves. Maybe in an early version of an outline for a specific issue, I may have Jonny saying this but, by the time I am actually writing that scene, so much has happened leading up to the writing of that scene that he ends up saying something more true to his character than I’d even thought to note originally. That’s always fun to see.
Oh, sure, that’s all part of the process. So, share with us what I’m thinking of as a fascination with Houdini. What can you tell us about the creation of the Houdini books?
That’s a great question. To be honest, the idea of writing about Houdini began with the original artist I’d worked with, Kevin Zeigler. We met through mutual friends. We both went to Savannah College of Art and Design. He was a freshman and I was graduating. So, we missed each other by a year. But, through networking, his name kept coming up and so we got together. I would pitch him ideas but nothing seemed to gel. Then I decided to try a really good writer’s exercise: ask my collaborator what they liked to draw. He said he was very interested in Houdini. So, I began to do some research. One book stood out in particular: The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero by Larry Sloman and William Kalush. That book opened my eyes to the idea of Houdini being this covert spy. So, I brought that back to Kevin and we tossed that creative ball around. That is how After Houdini came about, that collaboration.
I’d like you to share something about the storytelling process. You’re a graduate of the the Savannah College of Art and Design, known for its Sequential Art program. I envision you with a skill set to create your own comic alone if you chose to. But you’ve fine tuned your path to focus on being a comic book writer. Should I see you as someone like Ed Brubaker who did create comics in the auteur tradition but ultimately came to the realization he needed to focus on being a writer?
Well, no, not exactly like Ed Brubaker. I studied film. In essence, I was around storytelling but I concentrated on sound design which is more post-produciton, sound editing. I only did that for about a year after college. It really just wasn’t for me. I’d done some writing in high school but I had never viewed myself as a writer. Let’s see, I graduated from SCAD in 2005. I didn’t collect comics as a kid. My oldest brother was a collector. It wasn’t until 2008 that I read The Dark Knight by Frank Miller and that opened up a door and made me want to start writing. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know how to start. So, it was a lot of trial and error. That’s what the early years were like.
We all have our own unique perspective on the world and we’re all dealing with something. As a writer, you find ways to dig into a character to one degree or another depending upon the project. Sometimes it’s more direct. Sometimes it’s more subtext. Do you have a preferred approach in your storytelling? More direct or more subtext or does it just depend? I think of your comic, Southern Dog, which basically goes for the jugular.
I try to walk that fine line between both being direct and using subtext. I definitely pull from real life experience as an Asian-American, and being an identical triplet, as well as being adopted. So, identity is something that is at the front of my brain. Skip to the End is probably the only story I’ve written that is not somehow drawing from my own experience. Jonny was a character I knew nothing about firsthand. I’m not a drug addict. I haven’t lost anyone to suicide. So, there was a lot of research I needed to do in order to feel comfortable writing about someone from that perspective. Generally, I try to weave some personal experience into a narrative that isn’t directly taken from my own life since that’s part of the fun of creating stories. You get to live vicariously through these fictional people.
What do you hope readers will get from your Houdini books?
You get a sense of adventure. Before Houdini has a substantially darker tone than After Houdini since it has my take on Jack the Ripper. I think you get a sense of wonder from these two books. You get fun action adventure stories.
You’re living in Vermont. You came from Brooklyn. Maybe you could share with us what it’s like living in Vermont. And I’m also curious if you’ve had a chance to visit the Center for Cartoon Studies, located in White River Junction, Vermont.
I did spend a good part of a day there. It’s a very small town. It’s very distinct. The Center for Cartoon Studies is right in the middle of this one single winding street. I’ve met its co-founder, James Sturm, before. He gives talks around the country. And I’ve met people who have given talks there or taught or went to school there. Vermont is a pretty small state so you end up rubbing elbows with folks. As far as why I’m in Vermont, I’m recently divorced. My ex-spouse took a job in Middlebury, Vermont so I ended up here. My friends thought I’d move back to New York. And I love New York. I lived there for five years. But, honestly, the quality of life here in Vermont is substantially higher in a lot of ways to the daily grind of living in New York City. And I still go back two or three times a year to visit with friends. It makes for a nice balance.
I can see why the Center for Cartoon Studies would want to be in Vermont. You get to share that same mellow easy-going atmosphere.
Yeah, I think so. There are fewer distractions for a writer. I think, when I was younger, I was naive enough to think that the city providing me with inspiration. And in a lot of ways it did. But it also provided a ton of distractions. Since moving to Vermont I’ve become exponentially more productive than when I was in New York thinking that I was prolific. In fact, I’ve produced more, in a shorter amount of time, than when I was living in New York.
What might you tell us about two upcoming projects, Made in Korea and Virtually Yours? Are you still working on them or are you shopping them around?
Both of those have publishers but I can’t disclose who. As for Virtually Yours, I have finished writing and the artist is well under way working on it. And regarding Made in Korea, I’ve scripted two of six issues. I’ve outlined the entire series. I have a very clear idea of where it’s going. I plan to script the rest of it in the next two months. I’ve pitched a couple of new projects this week so I’m waiting to hear back from those publishers. I need to keep my fingers crossed.
It sounds like you’re in a really great position. You have these impressive titles with Insight Comics and you’ve got a number of new projects well under way. It looks like you’re right where you need to be.
I think so. The important thing for any creator to figure out is working at a pace that isn’t daunting. Obviously, early on, I wanted to be a full-time writer and quit my day job. I do tech support during the day. But, to be honest, I am producing enough work in my free time outside of my day job that I’m hitting my deadlines without a problem. I know that, once I didn’t have a day job, my relationship to my creative work will change. I’ll be depending upon that in ways that I don’t now because I don’t have to worry about making a ton of money off my work. And I kind of like that. I like that there’s no pressure and I can just create and have fun with it. So, I’m not sure that I’m going to quit my day job anytime soon even if I have the opportunity because I think it makes me work harder.
And you have something that is really working, a really well calibrated routine. So, you don’t want to mess with it.
I think so. As a creative person, it’s about moving that goal post, not being afraid to say that something isn’t working, that expectations need to change. That allows you to keep working. For creators that don’t make these adjustments, it’s easy to burn out. You can end up feeling defeated or pessimistic about your career. I think it’s totally normal, totally acceptable, and even helpful, to move that goal post, to set expectations that are right for you at whatever place you are in your life.
We could pretty much bring this to an end unless you had anything else you might like to add.
This was great. Thank you for your questions. Thanks for your in depth look at my books. That’s a first.
Well, I found Pulp, for instance, at comiXology. It’s there for anyone to find. I highly recommend it. I particularly appreciate the indie flavor to it.
For me, Pulp was a writing exercise. I wanted to see if I could tell a story within 24 pages. I think, from the beginning of the concept all the way through production, it took Chris and me five days to put it all together. It was ridiculously fast, unnecessarily fast. But I still think it’s one of the stronger stories that I’ve written.
It definitely has that urgency and energy that Matthew Rosenberg was talking about in the introduction I began with.
Well, thank you, Jeremy.
Thank you so much.
Editor’s Note: This book is a Comics Grinder Giveaway. If you would like your own free copy, contact me and I’ll get it out to you.
After Houdini is a graphic novel that truly lives up to its promise: a rollicking adventure that taps into the mystery of grand illusionist Harry Houdini. You have here another riveting original tale with high production value from Insight Comics. The steampunk vibe is natural and spot on. Overall, the work looks and feels like it was fun to create. Written by Jeremy Holt; illustrated by John Lucas; Colors by Adrian Crossa; Lettering by A Larger World Studios.
You are quickly swept up into a supernatural world with this comic. I think it’s the strange energy that all the characters are feeding off each other that is the true star of the show as opposed to any set of characters carrying the story. And I think that subtle distinction makes this special. By all the rights, the main character is Josef Houdini, son of Harry Houdini. But, as I say, it’s the magic in the air that overshadows everything. No one, not even a Houdini, is going to upstage that. It’s a challenge to convey that but this comic does it with wonderful pacing, gorgeous art, and one quirky tale to tell.
All you need to know is that it takes a Houdini to rescue a Houdini. That’s an important point. The rest is, well, a fun and intriguing read. Any story that thoughtfully manages to include Teddy Roosevelt and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as active and viable players is fine by me. I see that another graphic novel, Before Houdini, is an upcoming follow-up to this book and I look forward to it.
After Houdini is a 112-page full color trade paperback. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Insight Comics right here.
“Thomas Alsop,” is written by Chris Miskiewicz, with art by Palle Schmidt, and published by BOOM! Studios. What I find appealing about this comic, and I believe you will too, is Chris Miskiewicz’s love for New York. “I love New York.” That phrase never got old, even if it ranks as one of the most popular of all time. Time and New York. It is a city at once rapid and methodical. Many stories. Many possibilities. And many ghosts. Miskiewicz taps into what we find fascinating about NYC through the story of a man destined to act as an avenging angel in the service of the island of Manhattan.
Paul Tobin is a very thoughtful writer and that’s what makes for immersive work like, “The Witcher,” his latest comic with Dark Horse Comics. Tobin is a seasoned pro who has written for all the great superheroes. He has a keen mind that likes to play so it makes sense he’d want to see what happens when you set a story in the Middle Ages and throw together the fates of a warlock and a hunter.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” reminded me a bit of another comedy about another delusional magician, 2008’s “The Great Buck Howard,” starring John Malkovich. That is a case of a drama with a touch of comedy. “Wonderstone” falls into a special brand of comedy, high on irony, with touches of drama. It stars Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, and Jim Carrey, all masters of that form, in this hilarious, and heartfelt, movie.
This is a buddy movie. It’s the story of two partners in magic, Burt Wonderstone (played by Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (played by Steve Buscemi). We follow them into the spotlight and a long run at a major Las Vegas casino. It turns out to be a much too long run, as far as the casino tycoon Doug Munny (played by the late James Gandolfini) is concerned and he’s ready to end his contract with the guys. The act has become a caricature of itself, beyond stale, with the same lame old stunts played out to Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra.”
It wasn’t always so sad. The first scenes with the kid versions of the leads, Mason Cook as teen Burt and Luke Vanek as teen Anton, are pretty moving. Back when “Abracadabra” was a hit, everything was so fresh and full of promise. It was magical! When Burt, after suffering yet another thrashing from bullies, is given a magic kit as a birthday gift, his future suddenly seems brighter. He pops in the VHS tape and there’s Rance Holloway (played by Alan Arkin) ready to sweep him away from his worries and open up a whole new world of magic. He shares his new insights with his best pal, Anton, and they’re off and running.
Over the years, we’ve had some very successful comedies, from Mel Brooks to Judd Apatow, that have had us pull back from traditional sentiments and yet still invest something in the characters. When all the stars are in alignment and the story is properly synchronized, it can make for some surprisingly good results. Who would have thought that “The 40 Year Old Virgin” would have gotten to you on more than the most superficial level? Well, comedy is a very funny thing. Director Don Scardino (2 Broke Girls, 30 Rock) should know. And screenwriters Johnathan Goldstein (The Adventures of Old Christine) and John Daley (Bones) also know. If one buys into a premise, no matter how full of silly jokes, it is possible to create something meaningful.
For a comedy that you’d think should not be taken seriously, it packs some good lofty thinking. There’s quite a bit of angst and searching for meaning going on here. Burt and Anton are at a major crossroads. Their whole existence is being called into question. They are in the throes of an identity crisis. And to add to it, an ominous figure emerges, Steve Gray (played by Jim Carrey), who taunts Burt and Anton by having them doubt their very purpose in life. Steve Gray represents the new breed of illusionist who mocks the traditional craft of magic tricks and has become famous for his stunts, like going a week without urinating. He is supposed to be the future. And Burt and Anton are supposed to be the past.
Things only get worse before there’s any hope of them getting better. Just as Burt appears to have suffered through all possible humiliation, he crosses paths with his old mentor, Rance Holloway. Alan Arkin, a legend in comedy, is quite up to the task of providing the heart and soul that could makes things right. Add to that, there is Burt’s mistreated assistant, a sexy young woman, Jane (played by Olivia Wilde) who, by all rights, shouldn’t even be anywhere near Burt. But, as if my luck and magic, Jane remains nearby doing her part to provide incentive for Burt to fully redeem himself.
Comedy and magic share a lot in common. They can both be very direct pure entertainment. They can both have the quality of being very unreal while affecting us in a very real way. This story about magic is handled with love, and the right amount of irreverence, to keep it relevant and magical. It’s impressive how artful this movie really is. When you stop and think about it, Steve Gray, the flashy illusionist, is there, despite himself, to push Burt. He’s delusional to a toxic level but he’s also, inadvertently, confronting the whole purpose and intent of entertainment in general. Does the public only want spectacle? Wow. The talent behind “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” has got some answers for that and they will also make you laugh.
By the way, if you have caught the magic bug, you’ll want to check out Market Magic Shop here. And, if you’re in Seattle, you can visit them at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Since I’m in Seattle, I get to visit whenever I want. My last visit inspired me to write this movie review. Here’s a look at me dabbling with a little magic:
And be sure to visit “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” official website here.
With this new arc, “What You Want, Not What You Need,” the scope of this saga hits you. A story has been allowed to breathe freely and unfold luxuriously. It feels well lived in and we don’t want it to stop. You don’t care, on some level, if Rupert Giles ever comes back to life. Part of you knows it’s just wrong. And part of you knows that some things just need to happen. And that’s okay. It’s not like the characters are totally in agreement on what should happen next! That’s okay too. We want conflict. And, you read it here at Comics Grinder first, there’s a lot to be said for taking this whole thing and turning it into an animated movie! That says a lot for the comic, is what I’m saying, really. It does engage you in such a way that you get lost in the characters. Now, the fact is, stories should get to breathe and follow one thought to the next. That is what supposedly happens when you have an event comic but, in reality, that is too often an opportunity to just string along a fan base. Not so here. Dark Horse Comics cares about its readers and “Angel and Faith” is an excellent case in point.
We love Christos Gage in charge of the script. We love Rebekah Isaacs in charge of the art. The whole look and feel is outstanding. And where did Faith’s tattoo come from? I’m sorry, maybe that’s from the original television series. Well, I’m sure it is but I have only seen a few episodes. Not a true believer, huh? I have to do some marathon viewing someday. Is anyone rocking a Faith tattoo? You’re probably out there. Ah, those little details. Then there’s Angel’s nipple ring! We know, for sure, what that’s all about. It is a little relic that helped in the hunt for remnants of the soul of Ruper Giles. And here we are, all the elements to the Giles soul have been safely gathered into a magic bowl and the body of Ruper Giles has been carefully preserved and sits nearby on an operating table. The question is, What to do next? Proceed? Or run like hell? Well, there’s always that tricky question of getting enough super magic juice to jump start this project. That sticky issue comes to a head here because where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Is that Pearl we see reflected in Faith’s sword on the cover art above? Why, I believe it is. And why would that be, do you think? Well, Pearl and Nash are the baddies feverishly looking for any bits of magic still around. And you’ve also got Whistler, Angel’s former mentor, now arch-nemesis, in on the hunt too. Since Angel needs magic like nobody’s business, there’s a strong likelihood of there being a clash and so it is in this issue. It is a wonderful clash, interlaced with the action involved in attempting to bring Giles back from the dead! When you think of all the explanations out there for time travel, some tend to be more poetic and some try to sound as authentic as possible. We’ve got a little of both going on with the Giles resurrection project. Alasdair Coames, in all his fuddy-duddy wizardy, leads the operation in a brilliant fashion. But, as the title for this final arc suggests, is it all for naught? Or worse yet, should one really give pause and ask if they should be careful for what they wish for? At such a late date, should this still be a question? Well, read and find out.
“Angel and Faith #21” is available as of April 24. Visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics here.