By Adam White
If you haven’t read Living in Infamy from Ludovico Technique then you’re missing out and need to go read it right now. After that (or before, I suppose, if you need further convincing), I recently conducted a roundtable interview with the crew behind “one of the best new series of 2005” (and yes, I can paraphrase/quote myself if I want to) to find out what kind of sorcery went into its making. Ben Raab, Deric Hughes, Greg Kirkpatrick, Ashley Miller and Robert Meyer Burnett were all kind enough to humor my questions with well-considered responses and give us a glimpse inside the men behind Living in Infamy.
ADAM: First off, why are each of you a comic creator? What motivated your career choice?
DERIC: I’ve loved comics since I was six years old and always wanted to work in the industry. Ben motivated me, because he was already a veteran in the industry and since we were working together on film and television stuff we just started exploring comic book ideas together as well.
BEN: From a purely logical perspective, I’m a comic creator because I create comics. Y’know, that whole modus ponens thang… But from a more personal perspective, I’m a comic creator because, as a writer, I love the freedom of expression that this medium allows. Words and pictures are two incredibly powerful media when employed separately. But when you combine them, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It really is something magical. Kinda like chocolate and peanut butter…
As for my motivation… Well — aside from the requisite greed — comics were what I loved as a kid and writing was something that I became passionate about because of my love of comics, so it really was just a natural extension of that. But it wasn’t until I became an editor at Marvel that I actually realized HOW to make a career of it. Talk about an invaluable experience…
GREG: I have been in love with comics for as long as I can recall. My parents would buy me comics, I spent my allowance on comics, and I would be drawing pictures of all the heroes wherever there was something to draw with and something to draw on. When the time came to go to college, I had decided I would major in some form of business, figuring that art could not be very lucrative of a career. Thankfully, my parents and high school art instructors persuaded me to pursue what I loved and what I was good at. From that moment, I realized that no job in the world would fulfill me like creating comics does.
RMB: I consider myself a filmmaker first (Free Enterprise). With comics now looked upon as terrific source material for feature films by the industry at large, it made sense to begin publishing our own material, which we could quality-control and develop in-house first, with a specific eye towards exploiting our finished product across other media, whether it be television, video games or feature films. After all, aside from Burlyman Comics, what other comic publisher can boast real, working producers and directors among its staff?
ASHLEY: I don’t consider myself a creator so much as a facilitator — that’s what a good editor does, methinks. He facilitates the artist’s efforts to do his best work and not lose sight of his creative goals. I don’t care if you’re talking about Stan Lee or Ezra Pound, the nature of the gig has been the same since its inception. As for the choice to involve myself, chalk it up to passion for the project and a desire to see it succeed. If I didn’t care deeply about this book, I wouldn’t have my name on it in any capacity.
“The people who’ve had the greatest influence on me creatively are Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee, and Neil Peart of RUSH because despite their talent and success they continue to strive to improve themselves with each album.” — Ben Raab
ADAM: You obviously have a mix of creative backgrounds among everyone involved in the team, from a variety of mediums. What creators, in any medium, were your biggest influences?
GREG: I was very impressionable when John Byrne and George Perez were strutting their stuff. I would follow them anywhere back then. I finally came to the realization that Jack Kirby was a genius and not just the guy who drew square knees and created Devil Dinosaur. Seeing his work full-size and in pencils in The Jack Kirby Collector demands respect for his storytelling and the amazing pace at which he produced action-packed work. Currently, I will get just about anything by Alan Davis, Carlos Pacheco and Steve Rude. Solid artists, right there.
DERIC: Wow… it really is just great storytelling no matter what the medium that influences me. Too many to tell here, but definitely movies and TV, books and manga were a big part of my life helping me shape my storytelling abilities.
ASHLEY: Sam Peckinpah. Howard Hawks. Those are guys who understood how to tell a story, how to create engaging characters and how to be brilliant without feeling the need to reveal their hand in every frame and every exchange. Hawks is a particular influence — we’re talking about a guy who did everything from His Girl Friday to Rio Bravo to The Thing for Another World. That’s what I call “eclectic.” And that eclecticism is a product of both his immense talent and his passion for great material. Some day when I grow up, that’s who I want to be.
RMB: As far as genre material is concerned, I’m a child of television, so I adore classic Star Trek, the Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. The Prisoner, UFO and The X-Files are also favorites. I, Claudius is probably the greatest thing I’ve ever seen on television. As far as comics are concerned Howard Chaykin’s storytelling in his American Flagg! was groundbreaking at the time. Of course Watchmen, Sandman and The Dark Knight Returns. I love early Stephen King, especially the original version of The Stand. I’m also a huge fan of Dan Simmons.
BEN: Oddly, the people who’ve had — and still have — the greatest influence on me creatively are Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart of RUSH. Not simply because they’re incredibly talented — and grossly underrated — musicians who’ve achieved an amazing amount of success without compromising their own artistic integrity, but because despite that talent and despite all that success, they continue to strive to improve themselves with each album. It’s that driven philosophy, that unflinching work ethic, that I’ve tried to emulate most in my own creative life. To be better at what I do tomorrow than I am today…
Aside from them there are, of course, the usual geek suspects for someone who came of age in the Reagan era… The original Star Wars movies, the Indiana Jones movies, the Claremont/Byrne run on X-Men, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, John Byrne’s Alpha Flight run, Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Dark Knight Returns, Walt Simonson’s Thor, the Wolfman/Perez run on The New Teen Titans, Star Trek, the Super Friends cartoons, Battle Of The Planets, etc.
ADAM: What were each of your first jobs in comics? What work of your own are you most satisfied with?
ASHLEY: This is my first job in comics, and I must say I’m immensely proud of Infamy so far… but I’m never “satisfied.” Da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” That’s as true of comics as it is for any other medium.
RMB: Publishing Living in Infamy is my first job in the comic industry as well… and having other creators such as Brian Vaughn single out the book as one of the best of the week is greatly satisfying.
BEN: I started out at Marvel Comics in the summer of ’93 as an intern in the Special Projects department. Before Marvel acquired Fleer, S.P. was responsible for creating all their trading cards and posters and whatnot. But as a writer, my first gig was a Giant-Man back-up story in Avengers #375. This weird little psycho-drama about him dealing with his past and how big or small of a man he really is, despite his growth powers. It was, to say the least, interesting…
I don’t think I’m ever completely satisfied with any of my work. Nor will I ever be. Which goes back to that whole shark-brained “Don’t stop moving, keep improving” mentality I’ve got… But I do appreciate the work I’ve done largely due to the people I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with. Like the X-Men/Alpha Flight and Union Jack miniseries with John Cassaday… The Legend of the Hawkman miniseries with Michael Lark… The X-Men: Hellfire Club miniseries with Charlie Adlard… The JLA: Shogun of Steel one-shot and The Human Race miniseries with Josue Justiniano… Wonder Woman #162-163 and Action Comics #791 with Deric Aucoin… My work with Pat Quinn on Cryptopia and The Phantom… And, of course, the entire creative team of Living in Infamy …
GREG: I did a 3-page story for a book called Occupational Hazards which was a book benefiting the CBLDF through some other small publisher. Shortly after that, writer Jai Nitz and I, who’ve known each other from frequenting the same comic shop, put out an anthology book called Novavolo (Have to rib Jai and let everyone know he thought up the title).
DERIC: When I was twelve years old, I worked in a used book store that sold comics and the owner paid me by giving me comics… my parents weren’t too happy about that. Now Infamy is my first real job in the comic book industry and Rob pays me in comics and action figures. It’s a step up, but my parents still aren’t too happy about the pay situation. And of course since Living in Infamy is my first comic book, it’s the book I’m most satisfied with.
ADAM: What was the inspiration for Living in Infamy ?
DERIC: Ben calling me at 8:00 in the morning really excited about this idea he came up with over the course of the previous night, and when he told me about it I couldn’t stop thinking about it and we just had to run as far as we could with it.
RMB: All my inspiration for the book comes from creators Ben Raab and Deric Hughes… with an able assist from “Affable” Ashley Miller, whom I knew from our collaboration on the feature film Agent Cody Banks.
BEN: Living in Infamy was born of insomnia and the insecurity of not knowing where my next writing gig was coming from. But the biggest inspiration for the series was the title, taken from that old FDR speech. It was a familiar phrase that I knew would resonate and stick in people’s minds… Plus, it made for such a great conceptual double entendre — a place called Infamy where people with checkered pasts live… In this case, ex-super villains who’ve turned States’ Evidence and gone into Witness Protection… Everything else just flowed from there.
ASHLEY: It was a great idea for a story that deserved to be told. As soon as Ben and Deric shared it with me, I became determined to make it happen. I still can’t quite believe we did it.
ADAM: Did everyone on the creative team know each other previously, or were you brought together by the project?
BEN: Deric and I have been screenwriting partners since we met and had an argument in a comic book store back in 2001. At the time, he was the writers’ assistant on Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, where he worked with our editor Ashley Miller who eventually went on to co-write the movie Agent Cody Banks which was produced by Robert Meyer Burnett, the writer/director of the cult classic Free Enterprise. So on the publishing side of it, this collaboration was a quintessential Hollywood, “It’s Who You Know” story.
As for the rest of the team… Pat Quinn introduced me to the work of Greg Kirkpatrick last year and I dug his stuff right off the bat. John Lucas has been a buddy of mine for years, so I was psyched when he came aboard as inker. Green Lantern colorist Moose Baumann turned me on to the work of Allen Passalaqua. And Richard Starkings’ Comicraft and I go waaaay back to my days as the Assistant Editor on the X-Men books.
Without the least bit of irony, I can say that working with Ludovico Technique has been unlike any other publishing experience I’ve ever had. Not just because it’s a multimedia company whose bread and butter is the production of Behind-The-Scenes DVD content for big budget blockbusters like the upcoming Superman Returns, but because Living in Infamy is their very first foray into publishing original content. In this case, I’m not just a writer or just an editor. With Ludovico, I have the good fortune of simultaneously working both sides of the desk on my own project as a writer and as the VP of Publishing and Manufacturing… That’s something I’ve never done before in my career. Which makes it both fun and exciting, yet challenging. As any new publisher can attest, there’s definitely a learning curve to all of this. But given the quality of Ludovico’s output so far, I’d say we’re starting off way ahead of that curve…
DERIC: Ash has been a real good friend of mine for over five years now. Ben, four and some change. Rob somewhere in between that. Ben and I met Rob through Ash. It’s one big family affair. As for Greg, Allen and John those connections came through Ben.
GREG: I had never met ANY of these magnificent fellows before Infamy. I came on board through a lucky series of events which involved needing a new art team and friend Pat Quinn who does The Phantom and Cryptopia with Ben (Thanks, PQ!). Working with the gang at Ludovico has been excellent. Ben, Deric, Ash and Lucas have been supportive and tolerant while boosting my ever-so-fragile artist ego!
ASHLEY: I knew all of the individual players and brought them together. Once I discovered that Rob a) wanted to publish comics and b) had the cash to make it happen, I brought Infamy to him immediately. I think it took me roughly 43 seconds to sell it. Beyond that, the experience of working with all of these guys has been terrific.
RMB: I’ve loved working with the boys. I’m constantly amazed by their creative talent. I thank Ashley for introducing all of us and bringing the band together.
ADAM: What motivated the idea to explore super-powered individuals trying to make it as “ordinary” folks in a small town (that being role-reversal of the usual comics fare)? Was it a conscious decision or did it evolve along the way?
BEN: It was definitely a conscious decision and one that’s built into the concept of the series. Can’t have a bunch of ex-super villains running around in tights, beating the crap out of each other in public when they’re supposed to be underground in Witness Protection, now can we?
RMB: I’m a big fan of what I consider to be “real” world comics and movies… such as Astro City, The Ultimates, Ex Machina or even Watchmen and Bryan Singer’s X-Men films. Stories which attempt to deal with superpowers as if they really existed. It was only natural to want to see super-villains in the same way.
ASHLEY: I think Ben and Deric can speak more specifically to the genesis of the idea, but I can say it has evolved along the way. In the beginning, I think the tone and the intent were a lot more of a parody than they are now. Not that Ben and Deric intended the book to be a silly-fest, but it’s easy to get carried away with the “fun” elements and let them overpower the characters and what I think is a compelling world and point of view whether your tongue is lancing your cheek or not. If I’ve made any real contribution to this book, I think it’s been to help the guys navigate the very fine line that this story walks. What we’ve ended up with is a very successful look at extraordinary people trapped in an ordinary situation — all of whom are on a journey to discover that their so-called "ordinary" lives are the most important and extraordinary adventure they’ve ever experienced. In short, they’re finding meaning in the still places. And I think that’s just terrific.
ADAM: Does Ludovico Technique intend to release other comics in the near future, or are you guys testing the waters first with Living in Infamy?
DERIC: Um, Rob?
RMB: Ludovico plans on releasing other comics, but only if they can either meet or exceed the bar set with Infamy. Our second title, which I’m very excited about, The Red Line, was created by Geoffrey Thorne, a very talented writer I actually used to run into at my favorite comic store, Golden Apple. After he wrote some award-winning Star Trek stories that appeared in Pocket Book’s Strange New Worlds anthologies, I asked him about comic ideas. He pitched me The Red Line, and brought in artist Todd Harris, who also blew me away with his work. Todd will be creating all the art for The Red Line. Like with Infamy, I hope to continue the tradition of tapping industry heavyweights to create our outstanding covers, which I hope will be seen as our company trademark.
BEN: There are definitely plans for more books, but we’re not going to make the mistake of promising to flood the market with all kinds of product at once and then not deliver on it like so many other start-up publishers sometimes do. There’s no reason for that and I think you undermine yourself if you try to juggle too many balls at once. You have to focus on what’s in front of you until you can get a working model in place that allows for expansion. At least, that’s how I see it.
“At my recently-departed day job, when I informed a friend there I was leaving to pursue art full-time and that I would be drawing comic books, she asked if they still made comic books any more! YAAARGH!” — Greg Kirkpatrick
ADAM: What future work do you each currently have lined up? Will we see more Living in Infamy after the initial mini series?
DERIC: Signs hazy. Ask again later.
ASHLEY: I hope so! We definitely know where this story is going after the initial miniseries. A lot of what happens next with this book depends on the community response — but I have to say I’ve been really happy with that. I think a return to Infamy is definitely in the offing.
BEN: From the get-go we said we wanted to follow the Hellboy or Astro City model of releasing books. A miniseries here… A one-shot there… A two-parter there… Whatever format the stories we want to tell warrant. For a while now, we’ve been discussing doing an “Origins Of Infamy” series of one-shots that give us the backstory on some of our other ex-villains like Shotgun, Chiller the Killer, the Ebony Emissary, the Masked Mentalist, the Scream Queen, etc. But for the time being, we’re just concentrating on wrapping up the four issues and penning the screenplay adaptation. There’s been a lot of interest here in Hollywood, so before we get too immersed in the next phase, we need to stay focused and complete what’s already in front of us.
As for some of my other comic book work… Deric and I are working on a book called The Service about a team of genetically engineered Secret Service bodyguards who must uncover and stop an assassination attempt on the President… We’ve been talking to a few different indie publishers about it, but haven’t made any commitments just yet. So stay tuned…
Also, I just completed a 96-page graphic novel for Moonstone Books entitled The Phantom: Legacy. Basically, it’s the chronicle of the very first Phantom as told by the original Ghost Who Walks himself as a message to the future generations who will someday carry on his tradition of fighting piracy, cruelty and injustice… It’s definitely one of my most — if not THE most — ambitious projects I’ve undertaken. Not only is it a collection of prose pieces, but they’re all in the voice of a 16th century sailor! Talk about challenging! Thankfully, my words are accompanied by the amazing art of Pat Quinn and the coloring and design expertise of Art Lyon of Top 10: The Forty-Niners fame.
And finally, there’s the story I did for The Phantom #11 , masterfully illustrated by Rick Burchett that features the return of a classic Phantom villain, due out in May.
RMB: Ludovico is hard at work creating all of the DVD special edition material for Bryan Singer’s upcoming Superman Returns, in addition to pre-production world on Free Enterprise 2. We’re also hoping to announce work on an feature film version of Infamy soon. Obviously, it’s also our intention to continue publishing Infamy, following the Hellboy and Astro City formats of miniseries of varying lengths.
ADAM: As an art form, comic books seemingly suffer a lack of respect among the general public and even among many within the industry and readership. Why do you think that is, and what can creators and readers do to overcome it?
GREG: Despite that comic books have, in fact, become more geared to a more ’mature’ audience, it seems as though it will never shake the image of being kiddie fare. Most people see comic books as Superman and Spider-Man, meaning grown men in Halloween costumes with outrageous powers. I doubt the general public is hip to the fact that films such as Road to Perdition, History of Violence, From Hell, heck, even Men in Black have their origins as comic books. As creators and readers, all we can do is try to elevate the awareness that comics have stories of every genre for all ages.
Actually, at my recently-departed day job, when I informed a friend there I was leaving to pursue art full-time and that I would be drawing comic books, she asked if they still made comic books any more! YAAARGH!
DERIC: It’s very strange, there are some fantastic amazing writers and artists in the industry but just because it’s labeled a comic book within the normal public, they just don’t get the respect they truly deserve compared to other forms of literature and entertainment. But I think that’s slowly changing with the growing influence of movies, manga and anime among the younger readers that hopefully will revitalize the industry in a new direction.
BEN: I think people are inherently closed-minded and unwilling to see beyond the parameters of what they perceive and, therefore, believe. Respect is something you have to earn. But you can’t earn something that someone’s not willing to give. So how do you change that? Revolution.
RMB: Unfortunately, I don’t think the perception of comics will ever change here in America. Unlike the Japanese or Europeans, which have literally thousands of years of comic tradition, in America, comic art was always a disposable art, to be enjoyed fleetingly, then cast aside. Even such tremendous events as MOCA’s ongoing show on the history of American Comics here in Los Angeles isn’t going to change that.
ASHLEY: I disagree with the premise of the question. Take a look at just how much money Hollywood pours into comics every year, and take a look at the size of the return on their investment. And I’m not just talking about the obvious projects like Batman Begins or Superman Returns or even Hellboy and Sin City — I’m talking about brilliant little gems like Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. Dude, you’ve got Christopher Nolan and David Cronenberg making comic book films… on what planet does that constitute a lack of respect for the medium?
I’m also not convinced it’s necessarily a problem even if comics are considered a “lesser” art form. First of all, that’s not true — comic book art is every bit as compelling and important as art in any other medium when the level of artistry is comparable. Secondly, comics will always suffer in some sense for the same reasons that television does: it’s raison d’etre is most commonly perceived as commerce (and let’s not shit ourselves, it’s true). So comic books and television — even when they’re creatively amazing and groundbreaking — have to get past a perception gap with the uninitiated. Part and parcel with this is that comics are bound by a production schedule… unless you’ve achieved some sort of fanboy apotheosis, no one is going to sit around and wait eleven months for the next issue of Green Lantern. And now we’re back to Da Vinci and abandoned art, only in this case we have to abandon it a hell of a lot sooner to stay in the Diamond catalogue.
Finally, 99% of everything is crap. There’s a lot of product on the market, and picking through said crap to get to the pony in the middle of the pile can be an exhausting and demoralizing experience. But none of that takes away from the artistic merit or the achievements of the creators who pour their heart and soul into their projects. Seriously, if you want to write, draw, film, act, paint, or become a mime for your personal validation and recognition of your genius… you’re probably in the wrong business. You do it because you love it, and the rest of the world be damned.
“There is value in John Cassaday’s name and his distinctive visual style gracing our book… That’s the kind of thing that gets you onto store shelves — not sucking between the cover pages keeps you there.” —Ashley Miller
ADAM: With the Big Two companies focusing their marketing on gargantuan crossovers, do you think self-contained and small press books that focus on quality storytelling are getting lost in the shuffle?
DERIC: Absolutely small press books sometimes get lost in the shuffle mainly because the smaller independent companies don’t have the capital to bombard the masses with crazy hype year round. But you hype something too much and too long, smart readers will eventually grow tired of it and begin to look beyond the "hype" books and just focus on "good" books no matter what company is publishing.
GREG: Boy, that is a tough one. A lot of comic readers probably rarely venture outside the Big Two or so. Hopefully, through websites and interviews such as this one, the word of books produced by smaller publishers can be spread to a gaggle of fans ready to embrace quality comics no matter the size of the publisher with open arms. Can you imagine how it would be trying promote a small-press book without the tool of the Internet? Brrrr. Me likey technology.
BEN: It’s hard for small publishers, that’s for sure. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard retailers say they can’t or won’t carry a small press book — even those with a distinctly mainstream aesthetic and concept — because they need to devote shelf space to the bigger publishers and their latest multi-title wank-fest. It’s a sad statement, but hey, that’s business. I think it’s incumbent upon the small presses to figure out new and interesting ways of getting attention for their books. You just have to outfox your competition with some kind of viral, guerilla-style campaign and then you just might capture not only readers’ attention, but their cash, too.
ASHLEY: It comes back to the pony in the pile of the crap. Small press books have to put everything they can into being the pony that somebody somewhere discovers and then tells all his friends about. In the meantime, it’s the publisher’s job to engage in asymmetric warfare with the Big Two — that means viral marketing, a lot of hustle and going out of your way to tell your readers that if they give you a chance, you’ll give them something special. For example, it’s not an accident that we went to the artists who created our covers. There is value in John Cassaday’s name and his distinctive visual style gracing our book. That goes for Howard Chaykin, Chris Bachalo and Tim Sale as well — all of whom turned in what I consider to be beautiful, poster-quality work. That’s the kind of thing that gets you onto store shelves — not sucking between the cover pages keeps you there.
RMB: Well, as a lifelong DC fan, I’m quite enjoying the Infinite Crisis. The stories are great and the lead-up to the event was extremely well thought out. The problem with the small press, even when doing a very mainstream super-concept title like Infamy, is simply one of exposure. Since we’re new and only publish one book, no one knows who we are, that we even exist. Most fans are not even looking for our book. So it’s a complete uphill struggle. Even printing great promo posters and appearing at events like the San Diego Comicon are no guarantee anyone will see your book. This is why the online press is so important.
ADAM: What are your thoughts on creator-owned characters vs. corporate characters? What creator-owned books do you enjoy, and are there any corporate characters you’d want to write/draw?
DERIC: With creator-owned you have a lot more freedom to see fit how the characters will evolve and grow. With corporate, I think you’re pretty much locked in to certain parameters with the characters.
BEN: Over the past thirteen years, I’ve had the good fortune of writing many corporate characters I grew up loving… X-Men, Green Lantern, Hawkman to name a few… But the one character I have yet to write (aside from a guest appearance) is Aquaman. The guy takes a lot of ribbing for that whole talking to the fish thing he’s got going on, but he’s still one of the coolest characters DC’s got in their arsenal. I’m looking forward to seeing what Busiek does with him. I hope he can bring him back to what I consider his long-lost glory… Though as I understand it, it might not even star Arthur Curry… What is up with THAT?
It’s always fun to build your own sand castle, but sometimes it’s cool to play with someone else’s. Which is why I like writing both creator-owned characters and the corporate ones. They’re two very different experiences with their own benefits and drawbacks. Of the creator-owned characters out there, Hellboy is definitely a personal favorite. Invincible, too. Those are just good, fun books.
DERIC: I dig Invincible, love the Burlyman books, Doc Frankenstein and Shaolin Cowboy. I know there are other books out there that I pick up, but right now I’m drawing a blank.
GREG: I just love GOOD comics, period. I love seeing the characters I grew up with such as Spider-Man and the X-Men still going and seeing different creators take their shots at them. I love creators enjoying the freedom of their own creations with no limits and just having a blast! I mean, can you imagine if Hellboy was a Marvel comic? Sheesh, he’d be guest-starring in every book out there because Hellboy is the coolest! I bet he’d be in the New Avengers! Nexus was always a favorite of mine (somebody call Baron and Rude and get them an offer). Goon. Eric Powell is some kind of wacky genius. Walking Dead. I have never been a big fan of zombie flicks, but I love this comic. So many out there.
ASHLEY: I think both have the potential to be great or suck equally. “Ownership” is an interesting word, because I think it has to apply to more than just dollars and cents. When an artist creatively “owns” his work, it doesn’t matter who collects the revenue stream — you can always tell. So I don’t hold up my nose at the Big Two, or pretend that something about a book being “independent” magically makes it good. It just doesn’t.
That said, I love pretty much anything Alan Moore touches. The guy is a genius and he’s prolific, which just boggles the imagination. Of his recent creations, I’d say I resonate most with Tom Strong — I’m a retro sci-fi nut, and I love the idea of playing with pulp material in new, different and potentially shocking ways. On the corporate side, it’s a no-brainer: Batman. Is he crazy? Is he suicidal? Is he a sociopath? Or is he just this deeply wounded little boy who is desperate to embrace his parents again, angry at himself for taking the time he had with them for granted, and angrier still for what he considers his role in their death? Plus, he kicks ass.
RMB: I’d love to write Moon Knight. I love Moon Knight. I can’t wait for the new Marvel series. As for creator-owned series, I was extremely happy to see both Jon Sable and Grimjack come back to store shelves, two of my favorite characters from the eighties. Mark Waid’s revamp of the Legion of Super-Heroes is terrific, as is Geoff John’s Titans. I don’t care who owns a character as long as I’m getting great art coupled with a great story.
ADAM: With many writers currently “writing for the trade,” companies have seemingly embraced trade paperback length stories despite their aversion to original graphic novels. Do you think comics will continue indefinitely as monthly “pamphlets,” or is there some other format that the future holds for the art form?
BEN: So long as it supports the current business model being employed by the big publishers, I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say the pamphlet is here to stay. If for no other reason than to provide a testing ground and a foundation for the eventual trade paperback… After all, if people weren’t willing to shell out three bucks for a book, then why bother asking them to shell out twelve? But then again, I’m no precog…
GREG: I think we will continue to see the monthly format for a looong time. While it is neat to get an entire story line in one read, I love going to the shop every week and grabbing stuff off the shelves and reading the latest chapter of my favorite book. I would like to see more original graphic novels, though. I think it is a format with too much promise to be ignored.
RMB: Trade paperbacks greatly expand the market for comics now that most bookstores carry them. I’m all in favor of trades. However, there’s just something great about going to your favorite comic store every week and checking out not only the new books, but everything else now carried in the larger stores. I love reading my books, then bagging, boarding and boxing them. Looking back on your collection, you can actually see years of your life represented. I don’t think the monthly comic will ever go away. At least, I hope not. I do also enjoy the manga digest format, if only because you get so much story for your money. I recently saw a guy reading Lone Wolf and Cub at my local Quiznos, which I thought was pretty cool.
ASHLEY: Comics will always be available in “pamphlet” form for one simple reason: you can carry them with you. Comics are meant to be portable art, to be enjoyed anywhere at any time — just like novels. If someone devises a means to deliver content in an equally accessible, portable way, I think we may see migration of some kind, but I can’t see comics disappearing from magazine racks.
DERIC: I’m still pushing for the edible comic as a new art form, but Ash keeps force-feeding me my meds.
“There’s just something great about going to your favorite comic store every week… I love reading my books, then bagging, boarding and boxing them. Looking back on your collection, you can actually see years of your life represented.” —Robert Meyer Burnett
ADAM: Given the multiple-copies sales potential of edible comics, I’m surprised someone hasn’t tried it yet — it’d probably bring in even more cash than variant covers. Back to the issue at hand, though — is there a story you’re dying to tell? Any creators you simply must work with? Or do you prefer to go wherever life takes you?
DERIC: Go wherever life takes me. Right now, to my day job so I can pay my bills.
GREG: I have some stories I want to get to, but they are a ways off. Right now, I just want to be drawing comics as much as possible and enjoying it.
RMB: There are actually three novelists, strangely enough all Canadian, whose work I’d love to adapt into movies, but I’ll keep their names to myself.
ASHLEY: There are stories I’m dying to tell, but if I told you what they were I’d have to kill you. As for the rest of it, I’ve been blessed to work with some enormously talented people in my professional life, from TV to movies to comic books. So I’m not going to be greedy — I’m just thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity in the first place.
BEN: At the moment, I’m in more of “go wherever life takes me” kinda place. I have a lot of stories I want to tell. Some in comics. Some in other media completely. Someday I hope to find the time to write them all…
ADAM: Now we’ve seen where you’re coming from, so let’s end with a few quick questions to see what you enjoy as a fan. What are your five favorite comics that you’ve read recently?
GREG: Wow. Does this include monthlies? I am having a ball with Ex Machina, really digging it. Despite the slow pace the book comes out, I really enjoy Hitch and Millar on Ultimates. Just read all the Sleeper trades and really had fun there. Love 100 Bullets. Risso is briliant. The recent Top 10 OGN was awesome.
DERIC: Invincible, Infinite Crisis, Justice, Ultimates, Ex Machina.
ASHLEY: Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire’s revival of Defenders is genius. I’ve been enjoying Teen Titans (though I miss Young Justice). I liked Identity Crisis a great deal.
BEN: When I have time, I try to keep up with what’s going on in Astonishing X-Men, Green Lantern, Aquaman, The Ultimates, Captain America and Planetary. (I know, that’s six…)
RMB: Anything and everything to do with the Infinite Crisis. I also just read the hardcover Walking Dead collection, which I also quite enjoyed. All great comics should be giving the “Absolute” treatment.
ADAM: Do you have any specific favorite writer(s)? Artist(s)?
RMB: Neil Gaiman is my favorite comic writer of all time… and Sandman my favorite ongoing series. However, I also dearly love Howard Chaykin’s writing and art on American Flagg!, Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz’s run on Moon Knight, Matt Wagner’s Grendel, and anything by Alan Moore.
ASHLEY: Alan Moore is easily my favorite writer, although one could make a strong case for Keith Giffen. My favorite artist of all time is Bill Sienkiewicz — which is funny, because I didn’t appreciate him when I was first exposed to his work on New Mutants. At the time, the paper quality was very low, so the inks bled and it just looked horrible and confusing. But then I saw his work as it was meant to be presented in Elektra: Assassin and just… wow. That’s all I’ve got. Wow. That Alex Ross kid is okay, but he’s no Bill Sienkiewicz.
GREG: Alan Moore, naturally. Grant Morrison is knocking my socks off with 7 Soldiers. Like I mentioned earlier, Alan Davis, Carlos Pacheco, and Steve Rude can bank on my support. Mike Mignola is great.
DERIC: Whedon, Ellis, Vaughan, Millar, Bendis, Heinberg, Johns, Busiek, Kirkman, Way. The artists are Cassaday, Gibbons, Dillon, Skroce, Darrow, Hitch, Walker, Cheung...
BEN: While there are definitely creators whose work I’m inherently predisposed to — Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Bryan Hitch, Mark Millar, Michael Lark, Ed Brubaker, Brian K. Vaughan, Geoff Johns, Carlos Pacheco, to name but a few — I tend to enjoy them more for specific books than I do their entire body of work. I’m not slavish about my adoration like some fans are. Not everything someone does appeals to me. I guess I’m just picky that way.
ADAM: Finally, since you guys all experiment in a variety of mediums, what’s the last good novel you read? Favorite film?
DERIC: Currently reading Michael Crichton’s State of Fear and slowly getting through the latest Harry Potter book. Too many movies. Need more room.
BEN: Before my daughter was born, I had time to read books. And that’s over a year and a half ago… So when I was still reading regularly, I picked up Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code to see what all the hullabaloo was about. The sheer escapist fun I had with it then inspired me to dive headlong into his back catalog and give Angels & Demons, Digital Fortress and Deception Point a shot. Personally, I rank DaVinci Code and Deception Point as his top two for pure entertainment value.
As for my favorite film? Man, there are just too many to list, so I’ll pick one that I think people should check out if for no other reason than because Steven Soderbergh directed it. And that movie is Kafka starring Jeremy Irons as the misanthropic Czech author who finds himself tangled in a web of conspiracy and political intrigue that may or may not be all in his own twisted mind… Though I’m clearly in the minority here, I think it’s a work of unsung genius and can only hope that it will someday be released on DVD.
GREG: Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem, all geek-factors aside, was a great book.
RMB: Some of my favorite films include A Clockwork Orange, Wings of Desire, All That Jazz, Sweet Smell of Success, Ran, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Amelie, The Shawshank Redemption, All About Eve, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, The Exorcist, To Live and Die in LA, Rosemary’s Baby, Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan, Jaws, Raiders, Close Encounters, The Great Escape, Animal House, Lolita, and 2001. The last greats novels I read were Dan Simmons’ Olympos and Andrew Vachss’ Two Trains Running.
ASHLEY: The last novel I read was the latest Harry Potter, which I thought was the best of the bunch. And I’m in the middle of a really cool book called Captain Alatriste right now. Other than that, I’m a bit of a British Lit snob — I love E. M. Forster and Kazuo Ishiguro. I will freely share with you that I think Dan Brown blows dead bears, and so do his books.
My favorite film of all time is Casablanca, hands down. Not even a contest. If you don’t love that movie, you don’t have a soul. The End.
…Which is as good a note to end on as any, because those of you that do not like Casablanca indeed lack a soul; if you haven’t seen it, shame on you — and yes, I am a bit of a film snob (I went to NYU, after all). The team members behind Living in Infamy obviously have a variety of opinions and interests, yet they all have one thing in common: they love good comic books. Which is convenient considering they’ve produced one darn good comic book with Living in Infamy , so you slackers that wanted to read this interview before you bought the book can now safely get off of your collective Tom Cruises and buy it, love it, and then make your friends and neighbors do the same. What’re you waiting for? Get thee to a comic shop.
Adam White writes stuff. He also wants to express his sincere gratitude to Ben Raab, Deric Hughes, Greg Kirkpatrick, Ashley Miller, and Robert Meyer Burnett for their time and concerted efforts in not only the making of this interview but also for creating and producing Living in Infamy in the first place.