All Time Comics, Crime Destroyer #1, Jim Rugg cover
Alternative comics and superhero comics mix it up in various ways. The Big Two comics publishers, DC and Marvel, will occasionally employ “indie” cartoonists. Image Comics has set a high standard in creator-owned comics that generally deconstruct the traditional superhero genre. And there are all sorts of satirical and subversive answers to the standard cape and tights. That brings us to today’s announcement of the launch of a brash new line of superhero comics titles from the alt-comics stalwart, Fantagraphics. The line of comics goes by the cheeky name of All Time Comics. The project is led by alt-cartoonist and writer Josh Bayer. This is part of a shared universe featuring four heroes: Atlas, Blind Justice, Bullwhip, and Crime Destroyer.
Panel work-in-progress from All Time Comics: writing by Josh Bayer; pencils by Noah Van Sciver; inks by Al Milgrom; letters by Rick Parker.
The fun begins March 31, 2017, with “All Time Comics: Crime Destroyer issue 1,” a 36-page oversized comic book featuring the writing of Josh Bayer, the inks of Ben Marra and the last art by legendary artist Herb Trimpe, who co-created Wolverine. Upcoming issues feature art by Rick Buckler Jr., Ben Marra, Al Milgrom, Noah Van Sciver, and more. Issue #1 will feature two distinct covers, one by Jim Rugg and the other by Johnny Ryan. Upcoming issues feature art by Rick Buckler Jr., Ben Marra, Al Milgrom, Noah Van Sciver, and more.
Page from upcoming contribution by Noah Van Sciver (pencils) and Stephen Bissette (inks).
This looks to be a true mashup of the sensibilities of alt-comics and superhero comics. Look for a love of the genre mixed well with irony.
Here’s a look at upcoming titles:
All Time Comics: Crime Destroyer #1
Josh Bayer (story); Herb Trimpe (pencils); Ben Marra (inks); Jim Rugg (cover) + Johnny Ryan (cover); MARCH 2017
All Time Comics: Bullwhip #1
Josh Bayer (story); Ben Marra (pencils); Al Milgrom (inks); Das Pastoras (cover) + Tony Millionaire (cover); APRIL 2017
All Time Comics: Atlas #1
Josh Bayer (story); Ben Marra (story, pencils, inks); Das Pastoras (cover); MAY 2017
All Time Comics: Blind Justice #1
Josh Bayer (story and pencils); Rick Buckler (pencils); Al Milgrom (inks); Victor Martinez (cover); JUNE 2017
All Time Comics: Crime Destroyer #2
Josh Bayer (story); Ben Marra (story, pencils, inks); Das Pastoras (cover); JULY 2017
All Time Comics: Blind Justice #2
Josh Bayer (story); Ben Marra (story); Noah Van Sciver (pencils); Al Milgrom (inks); Das Pastoras (cover); AUGUST 2017
Box Brown is a cartoonist that I really admire for being able to take a subject he’s passionate about and distill it to its essentials into a comics format. His previous graphic novel was on the all-time great pro wrestler, Andre the Giant. You can read my review here. Brown’s latest book is all about the all-time classic video game, Tetris. Published by First Second Books, “Tetris: The Games People Play,” is a testimony to Brown’s determination to collect all the pieces to a story and create a greater whole.
Page excerpt from TETRIS: THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
You most likely know the game even if you don’t normally keep up with games. It’s right up there with such legends as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. It’s a game with a simple charm and an uncanny allure with origins dating back to antiquity. You can learn more about it and play it for free at the official Tetris site right here. Essentially, the goal of the game is to arrange little blocks as they fall down your screen in the most efficient way possible. There’s a Zen vibe there in its relative simplicity. Ironically, the innocent little game of Tetris became entangled in a complex legal fight that found the game industry giants, Atari and Nintendo, locking horns.
Tetris was originally created in 1984 by Alexey Pajitnov. Brown faithfully follows the creator’s journey and all related Tetris canon. Now, what you probably do not know is that there is a lot of intrigue behind what happened to this game on its way to becoming a classic. When Pajitnov created the game, it was the result of his passion for games without any other plans beyond that. As a citizen of the Soviet Union, his only plan was simply to be a good computer programmer for the government. Brown runs with the story once a profit motive is triggered.
Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov
And so our story gains numerous twists and turns as a cat and mouse game is played out. It is at this point that all the machinations can get a bit overwhelming. Brown handles all these moving parts well. He keeps to a basically lean and clean grid of panels that helps to steady the eye. And, at various intervals, he will devote a page to a portrait of the next key player in the drama. It is a modest little portrait set off by a black background. It amounts to a perfect pause, a great way to catch one’s breath.
Brown seems to hold back a bit more with his artwork than he did in his last book. He has a rather pared-down style to begin with. For this book, I think he opted to simplify as much as possible for the sake of clarity given all the details involved. Some work in comics is mostly to digest information. Other work is mostly to admire the artwork. And so on. Brown strikes a nice balance of conveying information with a certain zeal and style all his own. Once you start this book, you’ll want to keep with it and get the whole Tetris story.
“Tetris: The Games People Play” is a 256-page duo-tone paperback, published by First Second Books. For more information and how to purchase, go right here.
“How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” by Prentis Rollins
I want to share with you a book that really speaks to me as an artist and storyteller. I’d been meaning to write a review of it for quite some time and then it struck me last night as to what to say here. This is one of those books with the goal of art instruction that really gets it! And it is considerably helped along by its niche focus! Are you into science fiction? Would you like to draw work that perfectly fits into that genre? Well, then, here’s the book for you: “How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” by Prentis Rollins, published by Monacelli Press.
This is the ultimate guide for illustrators at all levels on how to fine tune their sci-fi imagery. You get the very best advice from Prentis Rollins, a DC Comics veteran (Rebirth, Supergirl, and Batman: The Ultimate Evil). Given the opportunity, I would love to pick his brain. But, let me tell you, this book is the next best thing as Rollins takes a very accessible and conversational tone throughout his instruction filled to the brim with examples. There are 32 step-by-step case studies in all created and imagined especially for this book.
Whether you are attempting to create a compelling utopia or dystopia, it all comes back to basics. Here is a book that goes through the building blocks all the way to sophisticated techniques to really rock your world. Rollins is certainly not alone in stressing a need to master the fundamentals before veering off to pursue your own thing. In fact, he implores you to not rely too heavily upon emulating the work of others. However, he also emphasizes the very real need to be inspired by others.
For Rollins, he has two main influences: American artist Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Star Trek: The Motion Picture); and the Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger (Alien). As Rollins is quick to point out, these two artists could not be further apart from each other. Mead is logical, clean, and rational. Giger is morbid and nightmarish. You could place one in the utopian camp and the other in the dystopian camp. And that falls well into the theme that Rollins pursues: a close look at science fiction imagery, both utopian and dystopian.
A utopian scene
Consider these examples, among the many you’ll find in this book. One shows you a scene more in the vein of Syd Mead.
A dystopian scene
While the other shows you a scene more in the vein of H.R. Giger. And, yet, both resonate a certain way of doing things that is all Prentis Rollins. And that, my friend, is the whole point of the book. I hope you’ll get a chance to pick up a copy for yourself or for someone you know who would get a kick out of such an impressive art instruction book.
“How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” is a 208-page trade paperback in full color. For more details and how to purchase, visit Monacelli Press right here.
What will it be like when they arrive? It’s a question that’s been asked over and over again, from H.G. Wells to Steven Spielberg. What sets “Arrival” apart is that this new sci-fi film starts where most of these first contact stories end: this is a film about engaging with an alien race from some other world in some rather in depth terms. In the process, we humans may learn more about ourselves and the very nature of reality. It’s rare that a movie really hits me on such a visceral level. Part of it has to do with its steady and realistic pace. 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” set the standard. In recent years, we’ve seen a trend towards more contemplative sci-fi. In this case, it’s what the movie has to say about how we perceive reality. The aliens have got a much different take on that.
“Arrival” screenplay by Eric Heisserer
Director Denis Villeneuve is known for pulse-pounding thrillers with a quirky sense of style (Sicario, Prisoners, Enemy). For “Arrival,” the trick was to find the right balance of the theatrical with the compelling and cerebral quality of the original short story by Ted Chiang. I strongly encourage you to seek out Chiang’s story. You will find it to be quite moving with a different set of parameters at home on the printed page. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer succeeds in taking the beauty and nuance of Chiang’s work and finding something comparable in a Hollywood screenplay. Heisserer addresses every aspect of the original story. He amplifies the plot and adds action where it makes sense. Read my interview with Eric Heisserer right here.
“Stories of Your Life and Others” by Ted Chiang
Part of this story is about communicating and connecting. How do we do that? The answer lies somewhere in language. Amy Adams plays the role of an exceptional linguist, Dr. Louise Banks. She is assigned to crack the alien language. Jeremy Renner (Ian Donnelly) is assigned to crack the alien math. And Forest Whitaker (Colonel Weber) is there to monitor. There are many others behind the scenes. In fact, there are twelve of these massive alien pods that have landed on various spots across Earth. But our attention is mostly on these three main characters, and our eyes are especially on Louise.
Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks
By the time that Louise has been enlisted, the alien site in Montana has been joined by an organized U.S. government contingent. And initial contact has been established: a crew enter a portal and make their way to a screen that separates them from a couple of Cthulhu-like creatures. While incredibly strange-looking, they also seem benign. Louise’s breakthrough is to authentically reach out to them. In time, these “heptapods” emerge from the language barrier to reveal a whole other way of looking at reality. Amy Adams delivers an exquisite performance as the one person who really gets it, in the same spirit as the Richard Dreyfuss character, Roy Neary, in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
“Arrival,” directed by Denis Villeneuve
“Arrival” is one of those special gifts from Hollywood that are still very much possible. This movie ranks right up with 2014’s “Interstellar,” starring Matthew McConaughey, as Cooper, in a somewhat similar struggle involving a parent and a child. Eric Heisserer says that his screenplay pitch went through 100 rejections from producers before it was green-lit. Well, his persistence most certainly paid off. This is definitely the perfect holiday movie, date movie, perfect all-around movie.
“Arrival” went into wide release as of November 11th. Visit the official site right here.
There is one way out of Trump Nation and that involves galvanizing the individuals chosen to be electors to vote their conscience. Everyone who wants to make a difference, go out and protest and focus on one key message: “Electors, Do The Right Thing. Vote for Hillary Clinton.” Will that work? Hell, yes! That’s working with what you’ve got, within the system. In the United States, we have an electoral college system created by the Founding Fathers of this country. The idea is to assure equal representation between all states.
However, it is possible within this system to end up with one candidate receiving the popular vote while the other candidate ends up receiving the higher number in electoral votes. Here’s where it gets very interesting: according to the Constitution, chosen electors of the Electoral College are the real people who will vote for president, when they meet on December 19 in their respective state capitals. And you can reach out to them now and ask them to vote for Hillary Clinton. The message can be general as well as specific to each elector. Seek them out. Follow these steps right here.
Tell your electors, your fellow Americans who will cast the final vote on Dec. 19th, to vote their conscience.
Take it the streets, take it to social media, tell your electors, your fellow Americans who will cast the final vote on Dec. 19th, to vote their conscience. That’s the only route that could prevent Trump Nation. If only the Founding Fathers were here, I am sure they’d agree. It is the only way to turn it around given that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 200,000.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As of November 19th, according to new figures released by The Associated Press, Clinton received more than 1.5 million votes than her Republican rival. Clinton received 63,390,669 votes, while Trump received 61,820,845 votes — a difference of 1,569,824, according to The AP. Rounded off to whole numbers, that translates to 48 percent vs. 47 percent.
It’s worth a try, isn’t it? If ever there was a time to break the glass and go for the emergency hatchet, this is it. The Founding Fathers would give that a thumbs up. Trump is a product of the media. So, go out and spread the word to the media. Tell the talk show hosts. Tell anyone who will listen. That’s the best thing I can think to do right now.
For more information, visit change.org. You can sign a petition that will go directly to the Electoral College Electors. Just visit change.org right here.
COCKROACH, by Joe Garber, is a 70-page graphic novella about Rocky, a psychotic killer. This is a highly stylized comics narrative in the spirit of a long line of contemporary thrillers going back to the original “Psycho” novel by Robert Bloch. You navigate between the grisly content and the artful handling. Garber’s comics take a detached ironic tone, not so much focusing on the blood and guts but on a suspenseful story with a few hints of dark humor.
Garber draws all his people as if they are a bags held up by flimsy wireframe skeletons: slightly deflated, no muscle tone, minimal facial expressions. That’s more of that detached irony at play. And, hey, it can get pretty spooky. You are never supposed to get close to Rocky. When he commits his crimes, it happens in a casual manner. With very little invested in the character, I still found myself steadily turning the pages. I have to hand it to Garber for creating a very creepy yet engaging work.
Page from COCKROACH
In one scene, Rocky murders both a man and woman in their bed while they’re having sex. Within this cartoony context, the level of irony reaches an uncanny meta-level. There’s an intriguing little twist that abruptly shifts the focus off of Rocky and leaves you wondering what exactly has been going on in this story. Garber, by the way, was one of the contributors to the brash, and now defunct, INTRUDER comics anthology series. It was a place to showcase a lot of Seattle cartoonist talent.
This story is part of a much bigger vision. Garber has a line of various titles. For instance, one of his comics is CANYONLANDS with the main character Carl, who “dives deep into his heartbreak and finds what is at the end of it.” Or, another example, is Garber’s 2013 graphic novel THE ODYSSEY OF BLUE BOY, where he illustrated 20 chapters contributed by total strangers.
COCKROACH is a 70-page comic which you can find at Joe Garber’s website right here.
Sam Glanzman’s VOYAGE TO THE DEEP was originally published in 1962 by Dell Comics and has never been reprinted. Drew Ford, known for finding lost gems in comics and bringing them back to print, plans to give this masterwork a well deserved return. This will be the third collection in Ford’s IT’S ALIVE! imprint. A Kickstarter campaign in support of this book is running now through Dec 3rd. You can find it right HERE.
Eisner Award nominee Drew Ford, left his position at Dover Publications earlier this year (where he put together over 30 graphic novel collections, one of which was nominated for an Eisner Award: THE PUMA BLUES by Stephen Murphy & Michael Zulli), to launch his own imprint called IT’S ALIVE!, were he will continue his mission of bringing lost and forgotten graphic novels and uncollected comic book runs back into print!
Currently, he is trying to collect (for the first time ever) VOYAGE TO THE DEEP by Sam Glanzman, a series of four interconnected 32 page comics books that have been out of print for almost 55 years! This will be the third collection from his new imprint, and he is raising the funds to do this through Kickstarter.
VOYAGE TO THE DEEP follows the adventures of Admiral Jonathan Leigh, as he commands the mighty Proteus (a shape-shifting atomic sub) through the deepest of Earth’s oceans, battling fanged sea creatures, arctic monsters, anti-mater generators, sonic attacks, and even terrorism!
Golden Age comic book master, and WWII veteran, Sam Glanzman has been drawing comics for over 70 years. And through Ford’s recent efforts, many new collections of Glanzman’s out of print work are now back on the shelves for long time fans to enjoy, and new readers to discover for decades to come. Mark Waid called Glanzman “…a National treasure in the field of illustration.”, and The A.V. Club praised Glanzman as “…one of the great storytellers of 20th century comics.”
The VOYAGE TO THE DEEP Kickstarter page has a handful of incredible Early Bird Specials, which will only last for the first few days of the campaign. And remember that if you end up becoming a backer, you will not only be helping Sam Glanzman, but you will also be helping Ford to continue his mission of saving the history of comics, one book at a time!
Visit the VOYAGE TO THE DEEP Kickstarter campaign running now thru Dec 3rd right HERE.
I first encountered the Venus of Willendorf, that most iconic symbol of fertility, flickering on the screen from a tedious college slide lecture. Despite the less than inspired presentation, that overt and voluptuous figure won out. Up close, it was so imposing while, in fact, it was such a tiny, and quite vulnerable, statuette. Cartoonist Jason Fischer couldn’t help but want to play off that irony with his new comic focusing on two friends. One is in the spirit of the Venus of Willendorf. Her name is Vee, a 20-something fast food worker. And her best friend is Pony and she’s a demon. So, a whimsical and supernatural team-up.
Reading TERRA FLATS at Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland
This is an independent comic, published by Press Gang, out of Portland, Oregon. What it reminds me of most is the light-hearted humor of Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, or Casper, The Ghost, where there is a menace, there’s a showdown, and then things float back down to normal. No one really gets hurt and you learn something about the characters. In this case, the showdown is between a brother and sister who are both toying with the affection of Vee. In the process, we learn about what Vee really wants.
There’s a winning upbeat style to Fischer’s artwork. And his balancing of humor and thoughts on the dynamics of relationships adds up to a fun read for readers of all ages. I picked up my copy of this comic at Floating World Comics in Portland. And, if you’re in PDX, or want to order from them online, you can find them here. I also saw this comic again, out of the corner of my eye, at the blur of activity that was this last weekend’s Short Run comic arts festival in Seattle.
Colorist Nathan Fairbairn, Drawing Assistant Jason Fischer, Bryan Lee O’Malley, and me
Now, a few more words on our cartoonist, Jason Fischer. I saw him a couple of years back when he did a presentation with Bryan Lee O’Malley for Bryan’s most recent graphic novel, “Seconds.” He was the drawing assistant. Jason drew backgrounds, food, monsters and did some design work. It was his introduction to the comic industry. He’s been steadily making progress and could use some more patrons. Visit his Patreon right here.
Press Gang is an imprint of Alternative Comics. Find Press Gang here. And find Jason Fischer right here.
I picked up some fine comics at Seattle’s Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. Short Run is one in a growing number of comic arts festivals in recent years in the spirit of the Small Press Expo (SPX) which was created in 1994 to promote artists and publishers who produce independent comics. The prime objective of SPX, and other comic arts festivals, is its main annual event, a place to showcase artists, writers and publishers primarily of comic art in its various forms to the general public. We are dealing here with a decidedly small demographic but a very important one. Short Run organizers Eroyn Franklin and Kelly Froh have done an admirable job of putting together a comic arts festival that resonates with this niche audience. They have found the big in the small.
Short Run Comix Fest 2016
This year’s Short Run at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center saw a steady flow of attendees. You could clearly see an impassioned interest for the hand-made. In spite of our jittery digital world, it seems that a lot of people are attracted to something more basic, something stapled or stitched together that’s printed on paper. And for the actual participants, the various writers, artists, and cartoonists at their tables, the sense of community alone is quite gratifying.
Here are a few nibbles of observations in no particular order. It was nice to stop by and chat with cartoonist Tom Van Deusen. He tells me that he’s thinking about having a new book out in the next year or so. Pat Moriarity has some similar plans. He sees a new book in the future as well as an animated treat down the line. I’ll see about letting folks know about it when it comes out. Pat, by the way, has created some of the most gorgeous prints through the Vera Project press. Noel Franklin has had quite a good year as she has the distinction of having won all three major grants in Seattle. Always good to see Vanessa Davis and Trevor Alixopulos. I had to pick up the new edition of Spaniel Rage, which won’t officially be out until February, from Drawn & Quarterly! Megan Kelso recently created a special collaboration with her 10-year-old daughter, Virginia, which is a lot of fun. While Short Run fell right on Halloween last year, this year it fell within the specter of the most crazed presidential election ever. I asked cartoonist and humorist extraordinaire Greg Stump for his thoughts. He said it felt like a perpetual loop where we never reach the actual day of the election as in an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Betty Turbo’s Portrait Machine!
And, by the way, if you did go to Short Run, did you get your face drawn at Betty Turbo’s Portrait Machine? Looks like a hoot. Visit Betty Turbo right here.
Short Run promo by Vanessa Davis
We’ll take a closer look at some of the comics I picked up this Saturday in the next few days. Some have a direct connection to Short Run and some don’t. In the end, it’s all about comics with that special touch. Call them comix, or call them alt-comics. They may appear at this or that comic arts fest or only online or even in an actual comic book shop. Whatever route you need to take, seek them out. And, if you’re in Seattle, be sure to visit Short Run right here.
Wren McDonald is a cartoonist and illustrator. His illustrations appear in The New York Times, The New Yorker, GQ, The Washington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, and many other places. His first full-length graphic novel, a quirky cyberpunk thriller, “SP4RX,” was recently published by Nobrow Press.
If you are in the New York City metro area this weekend, you can see Wren at Comic Arts Brooklyn. CAB is taking place this weekend with the main event this Saturday, November 5th, at Mt. Carmel Gymnasium, 12 Havemeyer Street, from 11am to 7pm, in beautiful Brooklyn! You can find Wren at CAB, downstairs at Table D31.
Wren McDonald has shot like a rocket since graduating from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2013. Wren has a refreshing take on both comics and illustrations: a rare set of skills, talent, passion, and drive. So, without further ado, here is my interview with Wren McDonald, recorded this Wednesday, as he prepares for Comic Arts Brooklyn.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Wren, if we were to do a virtual tour of your studio, what would we find there?
WREN McDONALD: Well, my studio is my bedroom. So, here’s my bed and here’s my desk. That’s my studio! (Laughter)
That’s the set of circumstances for a lot of cartoonists and illustrators, isn’t it?
Yeah, especially living in New York. It just doesn’t make much financial sense to have a separate studio. But I have plenty of room here. It’s pretty spacious. I can spread out and get my work done. I have a super big desk and an iMac. And I actually have (laughs) the extended studio in the living room! There I have a Lasergraph copier where I print out my mini-comics and zines.
That’s for serious cartoonists.
“Did Trump and Clinton Get a Pass on Education?” illustration for The New Yorker by Wren McDonald
I direct folks who are new to your work to go to your website, wrenmcdonald.com. There you will find a cornucopia of stuff. I’m focusing on one of your current illustrations of Trump and Clinton and they are both sitting in a classroom. These two are hyperreal, larger-than-life, cartoonish. You can’t make them up. Could you give us a window into how you created that illustration?
That illustration was funny because I got the assignment the day before it was due, which was also the day before I was traveling to MICE Expo in Boston, a comics show that I was just at this last weekend. That was like a super rush job which was really intense. The art director at The New Yorker, Rina Kushnir, who is super great, I work with her a lot, she emailed me the article. She said it was last minute but she asked if I could do it. And I said, yes, of course.
Rina needed sketches in the morning and then the final that evening, around 5pm or 6pm. So, that morning, I sent in like four sketches. They were sort of goofy and funny. Like you say, these candidates are already cartoony so it’s easy to characterize them. Rina chose the one she liked. That was at noon. From that point, I got to work on the final and sent it over in the evening.
Those jobs are always pretty stressful but I enjoy doing them a lot because I feel that I work really hard and get a real day’s work in and have something to show for it.
It’s a beautiful illustration.
I wanted to ask you about your evolving into the illustrator you are today. Your work is appearing everywhere. Only a few years ago you were in Florida just starting out. Could you give us the cook’s tour of how you got where you are today.
Sure, I graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design, which is in Sarasota, Florida, in 2013. When I was in school, I had a website and was posting things on social media, like Tumblr, and I think that helped me get my feet off the ground in terms of people seeing my work.
From that point, I started going to comics shows like TCAF in Toronto, Comic Arts Brooklyn, and MoCCA. I tabled at TCAF and other shows I would just go to. I’d have mini-comics to give out to help make people aware of me. It’s two different paths, comics and illustration, so I’ll talk about them separately.
The illustration stuff is, like I say, social media and tracking down email contacts and networking. And a lot of promotional stuff. You want to create a portfolio that really looks like editorial illustration. Editorial work has a snowball effect. You start to get jobs and you’re seen as a professional.
CYBER REALM by Wren McDonald
The comics stuff is going to shows and socializing. I was approached by Peow! Studio, based in Sweden, about publishing one of my short stories in of one of their anthologies, “Time Capsule.” I thought that was super cool since I was familiar with their work. I was super excited. I think that was the first comics story that I had published out in the world besides my own stuff online, on Tumblr. Soon after that, I talked to Nobrow about doing a short story (CYBER REALM) for their 17×23 series which is a platform to try out new talent. That’s a small format, just 24 pages. We did that and enjoyed working together. So, Nobrow said they wanted to try something longer. That’s what I wanted to do so it worked out that way.
It’s amazing how quickly things came together. Did you already have an idea of what SP4RX was going to be like while you were working on CYBER REALM or did one work just follow the other?
I didn’t have one story cocked and loaded beforehand. I always hear other cartoonists, or writers, when they talk about their work, saying they had this story they’d been working on since they were 10 years-old and it’s part of an epic world they’ve created. I’m not one of those people. When I sit down to write a story it’s about brainstorming and anything that peaks my interest.
For SP4RX, I’ve always been interested in the cyberpunk genre, especially movies and comics. I wanted to work in that genre. I was already creating work dealing with technology, robots, and dystopian settings. I think it just made a lot of sense to me.
We’re always hearing about the digital versus the physical. I direct people to the comic you did for The Comics Journal. How did that come about?
I’m not sure if Nobrow contacted The Comics Journal, or the other way around, but The Comics Journal approached me about doing one of their A Cartoonist Diary columns. I was all for it since I have the attitude of wanting to try something out and make it work. I had not done diary comics before so I had to think about how to do this. Mine is not a traditional diary comic since it has these fantastical elements to it. Despite it being involved with things I was experiencing, the more apt title to it turned out to be “Not A Cartoonist Diary.” That was a fun project.
Over the years, illustration is deemed dead and then it comes right back. It all runs in cycles. You’re firmly in both the world of comics and illustrations. Some cartoonists, I know, have never printed mini-comics nor done the comic fest circuit. But you love that.
Right! I love making comics, reading comics, and telling stories. I am passionate about my comics work because I am able to draw what I want to draw. Illustration is a fun back and forth since it involves work that I would not necessarily choose to draw: it’s more like a puzzle. Okay, how do I use these images to convey a specific idea, very concisely, to pair with the article? It’s a fun back and forth. Maybe I’ve been working on comics for two weeks straight, and then I get an editorial assignment. That’s great, I can take a break from comics and do an illustration, take a break from having my face too close to the page and switch my train of thought–and vice versa.
SP4RX by Wren McDonald
If we were just chatting, we’d end up talking about books and movies, especially science fiction and cyberpunk. I imagine that “Videodrome” must be a favorite for you.
I do love “Videodrome.” David Cronenberg is amazing but I don’t think that “Videodrome” had a specific influence on SP4RX. Instead, concerning SP4RX, I had just read William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” which I thought was like the coolest book ever. It is considered “cool.” I wanted to make something “super cool” like that! I’d always been into “Akira” by Katsuhiro Otomo. And “Ghost in the Shell” by Masamune Shirow and his Appleseed series. And movies like Paul Verhoeven’s “Total Recall” or “Robocop.” Or James Cameron’s “Terminator II.” “The Matrix.” “Aliens.” Stuff like that. I wanted to do something in the vein of that genre.
Let’s focus back on SP4RX: a super hacker going up against corporate enslavement. How close are we today to corporate enslavement?
There’s a lot of parallels that I was drawing from. Basic stuff that I’d see on the news. Even just going about my day-to-day, going shopping or whatever, that would end up in SP4RX. It’s a world with hover cars and sci-fi elements but there are plenty of parallels to our real world throughout. For example, I’d be watching some crazy video on YouTube with one newscaster harassing another newscaster and I would basically copy and paste that into the book. Within a sci-fi setting, you can focus on the human element. You don’t get caught up in a specific nation or political agenda. It’s just people in this science fiction world.
Everyone may not get a hover car but we’ve got plenty of the weird and nefarious stuff already. What do you think about Edward Snowden and us being monitored? The future is here.
Yeah, it makes me think that the cyberpunk genre and movement is more relevant than ever. When the internet was first coming about, that genre seemed so cheesy. It’s fun to laugh about it but there’s so much of it that’s relevant. Like you say, that NSA stuff is really happening. It’s important to pay attention to that and be aware.
Panel excerpt from SP4RX
Is there anything you’d like folks to know about that you are currently doing?
It depends upon when you think this post will go up. There’s Comic Arts Brooklyn this weekend.
I can push things up and get this out by Friday. I’d love to go to CAB. I have my own book I’m working on that is very much science fiction oriented. It’s about the science fiction writer George Clayton Johnson. His career and life’s journey has a very intriguing arc. He began with writing the story for the Rat Pack classic, “Ocean’s Eleven” and crescendoed with co-writing the novel that was the basis for the cult classic, “Logan’s Run.”
Oh, yeah, that movie has a nice sci-fi cheesy quality.
Well, the thing with George was that he kept to his set of values and the integrity of his storytelling. “Logan’s Run” is an example of a big studio having its own ideas on what the story should be. It’s totally fun though and I think a remake would be great. The original novel is very different. I think you’d enjoy it.
I will check it out.
Comic Arts Brooklyn
But getting back to CAB.
Yes, I will be at Comic Arts Brooklyn this Saturday, November 5th. You can find me downstairs at Table D31. So, come by and say hello! And I have a new mini-comic that will debut at CAB and then be available on my site which is called, “Dirt Dart,” a 12-page story about a soldier lost on another planet.
Well, it’s been fun talking with you, Wren. I know that you’re having the time of your life.
Yes, staying busy!
Thanks so much, Wren.
Thank you, Henry. When you’re in New York, stop by and we can have a drink.
You can listen to the interview by clicking the link below. I did not make any edits so you’ll pick up on some slight differences from the transcription which is a smoother read. One thing to mention here is that I was not aware of the title, SP4RX, being pronounced “Sparks.” I must have been firmly in the mindset of George Lucas and his 1971 classic, THX 1138:
SP4RX is out now. Find it at Nobrow Press right here. Visit Wren McDonald right here. And, if you are in the New York City metro area, be sure to visit Comic Arts Brooklyn this weekend. Visit CAB right here.