Sex, Drugs, and Microfilm: MAYDAY is coming in November!

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When I first left my staff editing position to go freelance, I wrote that one of the reasons for the move was a few outside opportunities that had presented themselves.

One of them was Mayday.

Just over a year after my last day at Dark Horse, Image officially announced the series. Mayday is a smart, sexy Cold War thriller following young Russian spies on a violent, psychedelic mission to recover secrets brought to America by a defector. Lots of intrigue and double-crosses, lots of over-the-top drugs and sex, as you’d expect from Grindhouse, No Mercy, and Archie vs. Predator writer Alex de Campi. Artist Tony Parker, of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and This Damned Band, and colorist Blond, of New Suicide Squad and Red Hood and the Outlaws, are delivering heart-racing action and realizing the Bay Area of the 1970s with amazing detail and wit.

When Alex asked me to edit the series, I couldn’t say no, and a year later it’s my first Image series as editor (I proofread a few others), and one I couldn’t be prouder to be kicking off this phase of my career with. I’ve been telling people it’s so good I quit my job to edit it, and that’s true. If I weren’t the editor, I’d be anxiously awaiting this one, and I hope everyone else loves it as much as I do.

For more, check out the press release at Image.

And there’s a preview up at ComicsAlliance.

 

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Freelance Year One recap

The last time I got so drunk I threw up was Monday, August 31, 2015. People just kept buying me drinks, and I didn’t think to ask any of them to buy me food, or to buy it myself. My office had already been completely cleaned out the previous week, and I had spent the day handing off the last of my projects and negotiating the terms of the freelance arrangement by which I would finish a handful of them. The only thing I was responsible for getting home that night was myself, and the 33 bus line, not yet replaced by the MAX Orange Line, went almost all the way there.

My going-away party took place at Duffy’s, an Irish pub a few blocks from Dark Horse, chosen because in seven years of working in Milwaukie, I’d somehow never set foot inside. I headed over after shutting down my company computer for the last time and was soon joined by a steady stream of people from different departments coming in and out for the next several hours, one of the pre-press team dealing blackjack on the other side of the bar. We reminisced, gossiped, talked about my future plans, and drank the whiskeys that didn’t stop coming. Eventually a few of us found our way back to Portland and stopped at my local bar for sandwiches, the first and only time I’ve ever been there and not gotten a drink, and also the first and only time I’ve urgently excused myself to its bathroom to kneel in front of a toilet.

On September 1, I woke up badly hungover on my couch, having surrendered the bed to a friend who ended the night as blind drunk as I did, the fact that it was her first day on the job somewhere else scoring her as many free drinks as I got. The hangover passed as my blog post about my new freelance career and a few articles about it went up and congratulations began to pour in on Twitter. I had written the post in Los Angeles the week before, while visiting animation studio Starburns Industries, the makers of Rick and Morty and Anomalisa, about developing a freelance relationship with their nascent comics line. The trip was hastily planned after I let them know I had given my two-weeks’ notice at Dark Horse, since I was the connection between the two companies. There I also registered my domain name, applied for a credit card that accrued frequent flyer miles, and generally began to think of myself as a business. Continue reading “Freelance Year One recap”

How is this my first Bridge Pedal?

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I have lots of reasons for why I never did the Bridge Pedal before this year, though none of them are any good. I obviously should have done it before, as I love biking, love Portland’s bridges and the Willamette river, currently bike daily, and used to commute by bike to Milwaukie a few times a week, back when I worked at Dark Horse. But I am a terrible procrastinator, and in the rare years I was aware enough of its imminence, I put off registering too long. More often, I didn’t know it was happening at all, as I have traditionally paid far too little attention to the goings-on in a city I supposedly enjoy so much. One year I learned the Bridge Pedal was happening only when I was biking across the Hawthorne Bridge and suddenly found myself surrounded by a wave of other cyclists, actual participants in the event I was inadvertently stepping on for a few minutes.

(I have also always intended to do the unrelated Naked Bike Ride, and for whatever reason the word of it has always made it to me, but unlike my Bridge Pedal failures, some external circumstance always keeps me away from the naked ride. Some years I’m out of town, some years there’s an obligation I can’t get out of. This year I had four flat tires in three days that weekend, all seemingly unrelated, as the piece of glass someone at my local shop finally pulled out of the tire cannot have been there for the first two flats, one of which necessitated the replacement of the tire. The fourth flat was on the other tire.)

The biggest reason for losing track of my surroundings is that I spent several years prepared to leave at any moment, expecting my career to take me away. As a result, I stopped putting down roots, not getting too attached to places I discovered or too close to new people I met. After I quit my job a year ago, I started working from home in NW Portland and spending a lot more of my time walking and biking around the city. One of 2016’s major themes has been learning how to engage with place again, since those years I wasn’t focused on where I was but also didn’t leave left an emotionally barren stretch in my memory, and while it’s still possible I’ll live somewhere else in a year’s time, I don’t want to spend another year neither here nor there. Continue reading “How is this my first Bridge Pedal?”

OUT TODAY: Usagi Yojimbo vol. 30: Thieves and Spies!

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Stan Sakai is one of comics’ masters, no question, and Usagi Yojimbo is one of the great series of all time. I didn’t read a lot of Dark Horse books before I joined the company as assistant editor to Diana Schutz in 2008, but I’d been a devoted Usagi fan for nearly a decade. One of the great thrills of starting that job was that I’d be assisting on Usagi, and issue #116 was the very first thing I worked on. (My first credited issue is #117, due to the short lag between new assistants at the time being hired on a trial basis and officially becoming permanent additions to the department, though I think that’s different now.)

If you are unfamiliar, you owe it to yourself to catch up with Stan’s wonderful creation. Loosely based on the historical figure Miyamoto Musashi, Miyamoto Usagi is a ronin, a samurai who, having lost his master in battle, now walks the warrior pilgrimage in pursuit of tranquility. However, his path more often leads him to iniquity, and his code of honor compels him to fight against the unjust, sometimes for hire as a yojimbo (bodyguard), but just as often because it’s right. The stories integrate Japanese history and folklore seamlessly, while the fact that the characters are animals universalizes the stories and is never directly referenced but lends wonderful possibilities to the designs. And what designs—and what art! Over the years, Stan has, like a sculptor cutting away everything in a block of marble that doesn’t look like an elephant, stripped everything out of his art that doesn’t look like his characters. The art is at once inviting and beautifully layered, with each issue possessed of rich emotion and thrilling swordplay. Most stories are completed within one chapter, as tightly plotted and gemlike as an adventure of Will Eisner’s Spirit, and when Stan tells a book-length story, it’s what the word “epic” was coined for. I still get excited just writing about how good it is.

It’s no secret that Usagi isn’t really edited in the same way that many series are—Stan sends in a cover and 2-3 sentence synopsis of what he’s going to do for Previews, and a couple months later a completed issue arrives via Fed-Ex. Sometimes we’ll make very small art corrections or fix some punctuation, and on very rare occasions Stan will ask for an opinion between two options on a page or ask if a harder-hitting ending is too rough, but that’s really it. Still, it’s an honor working with him, learning by poring over the art boards when they come in, and being a part of a legacy dating to the eighties. (First appearing in November 1984, Usagi is less than a year younger than me.)

I continued working with Diana and Stan on Usagi until 2012, when the series went on hiatus while Stan drew 47 Ronin, a miniseries based on the Japanese legend and written by Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson. As we planned how to relaunch when 47 Ronin wrapped, I suggested we come back with an event miniseries fulfilling Stan’s long-gestating idea of pitting Usagi against the Martians of War of the Worlds. This became the miniseries Usagi Yojimbo: Senso and turned out to be Diana’s swansong on the series, as she retired thereafter. In the meantime, I had taken on some other projects with Stan, including a reprint of his pre-Usagi rabbit warrior in The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, as well as the comprehensive library project The Usagi Yojimbo Saga and the original art showcase Usagi Yojimbo Gallery Edition: Samurai and Other Stories. But now, with Diana leaving the series, I got the opportunity to “edit” Usagi Yojimbo itself.

Beginning with the first issue back, #145, designer Cary Grazzini, assistant editor Jemiah Jefferson, and I set about updating the look of the series in order to make a splash for Stan’s triumphant return. Otherwise, it was the same old Usagi, not missing a beat since Stan switched his focus to human characters in 47 Ronin. Stan hit the ground running with “The Thief and the Kunoichi,” a three-parter featuring one of my favorites, the street performer/pickpocket Kitsune, who is just as tricky as the Japanese foxes of legend and does “what a girl has to to get by.” He followed that up with three perfect one-parters, culminating in issue #150, the last of my short tenure as editor. After seven years, I was ready for new challenges, and the nine months I’ve since spent as a freelance editor have been among the most rewarding of my life, but among my few regrets are that I was on Usagi such a brief time. Still, finishing with a milestone like #150, and its beautiful look at honor and contrasting sword styles in “Death of a Tea Master” is something I’ll always remember fondly. Incoming team of Aaron Walker and Rachel Roberts handled vol. 30’s concluding chapter, issue #151’s “The River Rising,” originally intended as the next issue back in 2012 before 47 Ronin came along. Spanning both ends of the hiatus, it’s a fitting close to the book.

I wholeheartedly recommend this, and while I did work on it, I feel truly unbiased, having loved Stan and Usagi for years before dreaming I’d have anything to do with it, and still reading it religiously now that it’s in the capable hands of my successors. My deepest thanks to Diana for bringing me in, Jemiah for working alongside me on my Usagi run, Ian Tucker for assisting on the first volumes of UY Saga, Aaron and Rachel for picking up the torch and assembling this collection, and Stan for creating one of the comics that made me want to do this. I’m there as long as you are.

Out Today: Mystery Girl vol. 1!

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I’m not sure how long I’ve known Paul Tobin. Not forever or anything, but longer than I’ve worked with him, since pretty much all the comics people in Portland know each other. I’ve read him for a long time, and I finally got to see him at work when I brought his and Colleen Coover’s Bandette to Dark Horse after its initial arc’s digital serialization from MonkeyBrain.

Editing the first two Bandette collections was a blast, incorporating as much backup material in the way of shorts, making-of sections, and original prose stories as we could fit, but it wasn’t working together in the same sense that me editing an original project of Paul’s would be, and we talked several times about wanting to do exactly that, with Paul sending me an occasional pitch and us discussing what kind of genre we’d want to do.

During these discussions, Paul sent me the pitch for Mystery Girl, which, with its relatable lead Trine, great hook in Trine’s power to instantly know the answer to any question asked her (except if it related to the last ten years of her own life), and mix of whimsy and menace, is not a million miles from a more grown-up, sexier caper in the Bandette mold. We were off! Paul and I share an obsession with making first issues full, dense reads that create a complete experience while giving people reason to come back, and that became our first priority. So many first issues are all setup, with the actual premise only introduced on the final page, even if readers already know what a book’s about. We wanted to avoid that, and Paul built an issue showing us what Trine can do and giving her several short cases to solve before building to a bigger one, introducing a new threat, and teasing Trine’s larger arc. There’s a lot there, and it’s still breezy and fun.

Alberto Alburquerque was always Paul’s first choice for artist, the two of them having developed a rapport on previous projects, and I am a fan myself, so I was happy for them to have a bigger project to collaborate on than they had before. As scripts began to come in, the world took shape, but Paul also got in as many jabs at Alberto’s soccer club of choice to add an extra page or two of description. They were pretty in sync.

After her work on Semiautomagic, I knew I wanted to bring in Marissa Louise for color, and I think either Paul or Alberto actually suggested her as well. Marissa’s hugely collaborative, and she and Alberto were kicking color ideas back and forth while issue #1 was still in the pencil stage.

I left Dark Horse after all the scripts were edited and the first issue was completely colored and lettered, with the editing chores on issues #2–#4 going to Shantel LaRocque, who is now also DH’s person in charge of Bandette. While I knew the shape of the story and what to expect in each issue, having only seen some pencils for issue #2 before handing it off, I had the pleasure of reading the series with fresh eyes as the issues were released, and so, while I remain biased, I have to say that from my slight remove they read pretty well.

Now the collected edition is out, with the whole first arc accompanied by Jimmy Presler’s mod designs and an 18-page sketchbook section full of material that was new to me. It’s a great book, and I can’t wait to read more of Trine’s adventures as a regular reader. Thanks to the whole team for this book I’ve been loving reading and am proud to place on the shelf next to some of my other favorites I’ve edited!

Out Today: Semiautomagic TPB!

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I’m always happy when the collection of something I edited comes out, but a book like Semiatutomagic is especially exciting, because it will be the first time many readers have seen it. Rather than as a miniseries, Semiauto was serialized in two arcs in Dark Horse Presents vol. 3, so for everyone but readers of DHP, this is a brand-new book by Alex de Campi, Jerry Ordway, and Marissa Louise!

Semiauto centers on techno-occultist Alice Creed, who has Indiana Jones’s day job and John Constantine’s night job. She’s never going to get tenure as a professor because she’s missing class too often to fight things too horrible to exist and far less comfortingly familiar than the fables and folklore of traditional horror. And every victory costs her and her friends (those few she has left) dearly. Her troubles in the book begin with a kid possessed by a demonic videogame and only get worse from there.

Believe it or not, the series started out as a superhero book, sort of. In 2013, legendary artist Jerry Ordway wrote about the very serious problem in comics of established artists being pushed out as publishers chase new flavors. As he noted in the essay, new blood is essential to comics, but when he looked back at the beginning of his career, the generation before him continued to work side-by-side that new blood, which seems to be less true today. My frequent collaborator Alex de Campi immediately contacted me saying that if DC wasn’t keeping him busy enough, she loved his work and wanted to find something to cocreate with him. A huge fan myself, I was an easy sell. So was Dark Horse president Mike Richardson, who okayed a run in DHP on the basis of a TBD Alex/Jerry collaboration.

I was slightly tuned into the conversations between writer and artist that followed, but soon a space-based female superhero had become Alice Creed, and I received scripts for most or all of the first arc at once. I gave my feedback, made Jerry a schedule, and waited for pages to come in.

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And then I had my mind blown. Jerry had never done anything like this before. In a career full of superhero work, he was unquestionably one of the best, but I hadn’t seen him try his hand at horror, and it turned out he can do scary and unsettling with all the panache he brings to capes and tights. Not only was he right that established artists still have vital work to do in the field, but here he was proving, 34 years into his comics career, that he had untapped depths no one would ever have guessed were there without new and different projects continuing to come his way. It’s been a pleasure to see his work show up at DC again, in the pages of Justice League and Convergence: Infinity Inc., but I also look forward to what new and unexpected things come his way after he reminded everyone how much more he can do. And of course I’m already trying to figure out what projects I can bring him in on.

Not long before, I had met colorist Marissa Louise Czerniejewski through my then-assistant (now an associate editor) Ian Tucker. We painted together at some drink and draw or party or other, and I had been looking for a project to try her work out in ever since. Semiauto wasn’t her first work to see print, but I believe we hired her before she was hired for the RoboCop run that debuted prior our first chapter. Like Jerry, Marissa proved versatile and surprising, with intuitive color decisions that pushed the creepiness factor of the work even further. We’ve gone on to work together on Grindhouse, Mystery Girl, and The Sakai Project at Dark Horse, Trent at Starburns Industries, and the new Kickstarted book of Semiauto stories.

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Yes, in case you missed it, we produced three more Semiauto stories, two drawn by Jerry and one by guest artist Lara Margarida, all written and lettered by Alex and colored by Marissa, with editing assistance from Bekah Caden. It’s a slipcased set containing both the Dark Horse volume and the Kickstarter volume, with magnificent slipcase art by Tomer Hanuka. It goes to press in just a couple weeks! This was pretty limited, so I recommend grabbing the DH volume today if you weren’t a Kickstarter backer, but keep an eye out at conventions and you may be able to buy a set from Alex, Jerry, or me.

Anyway, I’m so happy Semiautomagic is a book now and that it’s out in the world as a standalone story. It’s not what you expect from Jerry, it’s even a little different for Alex, and it’s just good, fucked-up horror comics. Thanks to everyone who made it real: Alex, Jerry, Marissa, Ian, Mike, and then-DHP coeditor Jim Gibbons. We’re all really proud of this one!

If you’re still not convinced you need this on your shelf, don’t take my word for it, take Geeked-Out Nation’s word for it.

The Dare2Draw Kickstarter is LIVE!

Dare2Draw+First+Anthology+1The Kickstarter campaign for Dare2Draw’s mentoring anthology, which I edited, has begun! The anthology pairs up-and-coming artists (many of whom are receiving their first paid gig) with pro comics writers for eight new stories featuring Mike Baron and Steve Rude‘s Nexus! Mike and Steve have generously let D2D use their beloved character, and Steve drew the cover! Writers include Ron Marz (Green Lantern, Star Wars, Witchblade), Alex De Campi (Archie vs. Predator, Grindhouse, No Mercy), Amy Chu (Poison Ivy, Ant-Man, Deadpool), Corinna Bechko (Invisible Republic, Star Wars: Legacy, Savage Hulk), Eric M. Esquivel (Adventure Time, Sanjay and Craig, Heavy Metal), and more. The full list, along with all the artists and some sample pages, are on the KS page!

D2D has also teamed up with the Kubert School, and two of the artists are freshly graduated from the program, having drawn their stories during their final year at the school.

In addition to the book itself, there are tons of great rewards, thanks to Steve Rude, Dark Horse Comics, the Kubert School, and Dare2Draw! Rewards include lots of Nexus swag, as well as portfolio reviews from D2D Artist in Residence Simon Fraser (who also offers original art) and script/pitch reviews from me.

Please consider backing the Kickstarter. This project will make a big difference in the lives of a bunch of wonderful artists, but we need your help to do it!

Poppy! is Multiversity’s Pick of the Week!

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I’m really excited about this one! I’m a longtime fan of Brian Hurtt, and working with Matt Kindt on MIND MGMT and his other Dark Horse projects was among the most exciting times I’ve had in comics. Plus, I always want to see more comics out there for younger readers, so when Matt’s agent pitched Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon, it hit all my bases.

The book was fascinating to watch come together, with Matt and Brian collaborating on both the story and art, and a few big tweet sessions showed them working side by side, Brian inking and Matt painting, for a result that doesn’t look quite like either of their other work but is also distinctly both of theirs. I left Dark Horse while they were making their final push to complete the book (as Brian also somehow drew the triple-sized The Sixth Gun #50, his Oni editors and I keeping in touch to coordinate), so thanks to my awesome colleague, editor Daniel Chabon, for finishing it up so ably!

Now Multiversity Comics has named Poppy! as its Pick of the Week. Well deserved, and congrats to Matt and Brian on your beautiful work and the reception it’s receiving!

Poppy! hit comics stores yesterday and will be in book stores and digital formats in a couple weeks. It’s a joy to behold.

Out this week: Dark Horse Presents #22

IMG_0248The latest issue of Dark Horse’s multiple Eisner- and Harvey-winning anthology has a great cover story written and drawn by Black Hammer, DescenderAll-New Hawkeye, and Bloodshot Reborn writer Jeff Lemire, “The Witches of Mars,” and you should pick it up! Jeff did painted color himself, and his frequent collaborator Steve Wands is on lettering.

This grew out of a casual check-in at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, as we got coffee and caught up on the progress of Jeff and Dean Ormston’s series Black Hammer (debuting in July!). I asked Jeff if he’d like to do something for Dark Horse Presents, and he immediately said yes. He didn’t have anything particular in mind, but because there were already so many approved stories and his schedule was so full, we figured he had plenty of time.

As it turned out, Jeff came up with “The Witches of Mars” pretty quickly, and he was excited enough by the story that a script and then art came long before his deadline. We all loved it enough that we asked if he could fit in a cover, and before we knew it, we had that too. As usual, I offered a little feedback, but what you see is almost exactly what Jeff turned in, because he nailed it from the beginning.

“The Witches of Mars” is my only contribution to this issue of DHP, but I’m looking forward to reading new “Finder,” as always, and am also excited for the latest from Dennis Calero’s “The Suit,” Paul Levitz and Tim Hamilton’s “Brooklyn Blood,” and the rest. I’ll be reading with excitement, and you should too!

(Also out this week, and in the picture above, is Matt Kindt and Sharlene Kindt’s Dept. H #2. While I helped out in the early development of this series before going freelance, the editorial heavy lifting has been done by my successor, editor Daniel Chabon, so I can say with only a little bias that it is absolutely worth your time. And Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo #154 is something everyone should read, and as I read the series religiously long before I edited it and still do now that I am no longer connected to it, I feel completely unbiased in pushing it on anyone who will listen.)

Podcast appearance: What Do I Know?

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I love podcasts. I listen to podcasts while walking, while exercising, while cooking. A friend and I recently recorded a few test episodes of a podcast to see how that would go, and the results were not as bad as I’d have expected, though not yet ready for primetime. If we end up going ahead with it, we’ll be recording several more tests before putting together a real one.

In the meantime, I sometimes have the privilege of being a guest on other people’s podcasts. Most recently, I was invited onto the What Do I Know? podcast, hosted by Jason Gentry and LARP! artist Marlin Shoop. We talked a bit about me, Archie vs. Predator, comics on newsstands, the similarity between the Masters of the Universe movie and Jack Kirby’s New Gods (though never having seen the movie, I mostly spend that segment confused), and more.

Check it out on Podbean, iTunes, and other places. It’s a good, wide-ranging talk, and I had a lot of fun making bad jokes!