Category Archives: graphic novel

Interview with Chris Roberson

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picture of Chris RobersonChris Roberson is the co-creator, along with artist Michael Allred, of the iZOMBIE comics, which are the basis of the hit CW television series, and the writer of several New York Times best-selling Cinderella miniseries set in the world of Bill Willingham’s Fables. He is also the co-creator of Edison Rex with artist Dennis Culver, and the co-writer of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D, Witchfinder, and other titles set in the world of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. In addition to his numerous comics projects, Roberson has written more than a dozen novels and three dozen short stories. He lives with his daughter, two cats, and far too many books in Portland, Oregon. You can find him on Twitter by following @chris_roberson.

Shauna Kosoris: Where did you get the idea for iZombie?

Chris Roberson: The inspiration for iZombie largely came from two questions I asked myself. The first was, just why do zombies need to eat brains in the first place? What were they getting out of them? And the second was, would it be possible to tell a zombie story that took place in the modern day and not in some sort of post-apocalyptic setting? Answering the first helped me figure out a way to answer the second!

In an interview with Tobias S. Buckell, you said that your brain likes to think up ways of turning odd bits of trivia into stories.  What’s the most interesting bit of trivia you’ve ever used for a story?

I was still living in Austin, Texas when I was writing the original series, and the stylist who had been cutting my hair for more than a dozen years had recently joined a competitive Skee-ball league. So every time I went in for a haircut, she would tell me all about the latest competitions, and how her team had done, and I was just fascinated by the whole thing. At one point I planned to do an entire story arc built entirely around skee-ball, with Gwen having to take a dead woman’s place and help lead her team to victory, having inherited the woman’s skill at the game. In the end, saner heads prevailed and the whole story was dealt with  in a handful of pages. But Mike Allred did a fantastic skee-ball themed cover for the issue, so it was all worth it.

That’s super fun!  So in 2015, iZombie became a television show – what was that like for you?

It was, and remains, incredibly surreal. It would be enough if our comic was still well remembered and being discovered by new readers, but for it to have taken on this second life as a TV adaptation, especially one as fantastic as iZombie is, and made by such talented (and friendly!) people, has been a source of continual amazement.

Moving away from iZombie now, how did you get involved with Fables?

Bill Willingham has been one of my dearest friends for the better part of twenty years, and he asked me if I would be interested in writing a fill-in issue of Jack of Fables. That was my entrée into comics, which I’d been trying to break into for nearly 18 years by that point. My fill-in issue was well received, which led to Bill and his editor Shelly Bond inviting me to write a miniseries featuring the Cinderella character from Fables, and I’ve been a full time comic book writer ever since.

Now that you write comics full time, do you still write prose?

I still do a bit of both, though largely concentrated on comics. My most recent novel, Firewalk, was published by Night Shade Books last fall, and I’ve recently contributed a short story to a forthcoming Hellboy prose anthology, but most of my time these days is spent writing scripts for comic books.

I’ve read that your writing group become the publishing imprint Clockwork Storybook. How did that happen?

Clockwork Storybook was originally just four of us—me, Bill, Lilah Sturges, and Mark Finn— meeting up every week to read and critique each other’s latest stories, but in time it grew into an online anthology of urban fantasy, in which each of us wrote stories featuring our own characters that were all set in the same fictional city. This was the early days of Print On Demand (POD), so it was a short step from online publishing to releasing novels and short story collections in POD editions. Bill was already the old pro at that point, but the rest of us were still learning our craft, and I think that Clockwork Storybook played an immense part in helping shape the kinds of writers that we became.

Monkeybrain Comics, the imprint that you and your business partner, Allison Baker, launched was originally Monkeybrain Books.  Why the switch to comics?

Monkeybrain Books was an offset publisher (that is, traditionally printed and bound books, not Print On Demand) that originally specialized in nonfiction genre studies, and then went on to expand into novels, reprints, short story collections, anthologies, and even an art book and an encyclopedia! With the contraction of the bookstore market, around the time that Borders closed up shop, our book sales had dipped to the point where it didn’t make economic sense for us to keep printing traditionally anymore. But it was around that time that Allison and I started thinking about ways in which we could produce and distribute comic books digitally, which led to a partnership with ComiXology and the launch of the Monkeybrain Comics imprint.

So what are you working on now?

Most of my time these days is spent writing comic book miniseries set in the world of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. One series I did in collaboration with Paul Grist, The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed, recently wrapped up, and will be available in a collected edition later this year, and I’ve been collaborating with Mignola and a stellar cast of artists on the continuing Hellboy & The BPRD series, which are Cold War-era adventures set earlier in Hellboy’s career.

Let’s finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

Oh, wow. ALL of them? I joke, but it’s hard to point to any single point of inspiration. But the novels of Michael Moorcock were immensely influential on me from high school onwards, and reading Matt Wagner’s comic book series Mage: The Hero Discovered  in my senior year was probably the single greatest influence on my development as a comic writer (which is why I’m thrilled that we’re finally getting the long away third installment, Mage: The Hero Denied).

And what are you currently reading?

I just started reading Grady Hendrix’s novel My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and as a child of the 80s who grew up immersed in pop music and horror movies, it is hitting me right between the eyes. Highly recommended!

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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

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Do you remember the campy version of Batman from the 1960’s TV show?  That’s the way he was portrayed for several decades. But everything changed in 1986 thanks to Frank Miller’s Batman: the Dark Knight Returns. Miller’s depiction of the Dark Knight, along with Alan Moore’s Watchmen, ushered in a new, darker era for comic books.

The Dark Knight Rises is itself a very interesting read. Batman retired ten years ago. But crime has continued unabated in Gotham City. When an extremely violent gang appears, something within Bruce Wayne snaps and he can’t keep Batman hidden inside anymore. But Wayne is over fifty years old; fighting crime is much harder in his aging body.

Gotham City has also changed. Commissioner Gordon is retiring. His chosen replacement, the first woman Commissioner, feels the Dark Knight is a menace who must be hunted down. This is part of a larger debate within Gotham City, where various individuals weigh in on how they feel about the Dark Knight’s return. This part of the story feels very relevant to today, both in the way that it is presented (with talk show hosts bringing in various guests to debate) and in how divided in thought everyone is. And while The Dark Knight Returns has these modern aspects, it is also very much a product of its time, having been written during the Cold War; it expressly deals with people’s fears from the time (but with a superhero twist).

One warning though: the physical book is rather daunting thanks to the sheer amount of dialogue in it. The art is also not particularly appealing, making this graphic novel a bit harder to get through as well. But the story is very much worth it!

Tales From Big Spirit (Series) by David Alexander Robertson

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I have been a fan of David Alexander Robertson since I read his 7 Generations graphic novel series a few years ago. Recently I stumbled upon his graphic novel series for a younger audience called “Tales from Big Spirit”. Each book is about a prominent First Nations person from history and teaches the reader about their contributions using beautifully drawn graphics (there are a few different illustrators for the series). Although intended for children, I as an adult really enjoyed reading the books and learned a few new things.

The first title I read was “The Peacemaker- Thanadelathur” (illustrated by Wai Tien). This book teaches the reader about Thanadelathur, a remarkable Dene woman who helped make peace between the Cree and Dene peoples in the 1700s. She was originally captured by some Cree people, and managed to escape after the winter had passed. Nearly starving in the process, she was discovered by some geese hunters from the Hudson’s Bay Company and she agreed to become an interpreter for the Hudson’s Bay Company to establish trade agreements. After some difficulty, she proved the be successful, and Thanadelathur is still remembered today through oral tradition and the Hudson Bay Company’s records (quite a rarity for a First Nations woman at that time!)

Second was “The Poet-Pauline Johnson” (illustrated by Scott B. Henderson). This book introduces Pauline Johnson, a Mohawk poet who was quite famous for her poetry reciting, especially “A Cry from an Indian Wife” which told of the Battle of Cut Knife during the Riel Rebellion. Being half European and half Mohawk, she worked towards reconciliation towards those groups of people, and her works have been honored by different groups yesterday and today.

Third was “The Ballad of Nancy April- Shawnadithit” (illustrated by Scott B. Henderson) which tells about the extinction of the Beothuk people in Newfoundland in the 19th century. They became instinct due to various reasons, including loss of food sources due to competition with other groups in the area, death due to European diseases (especially tuberculosis), and violent encounters from other groups. Shawnadithit was the last known full-blooded Beothuk person until her death in 1829, and because of her, some history of the Beothuk people survive today.

Last was “The Scout-Tommy Prince” (illustrated by Scott B. Henderson). This installment teaches about Sgt. Tommy Prince, the most decorated First Nations Soldier in Canada, who served in both World War II and the Korean War. As a young man, he spent a lot of time outdoors hunting and doing other skills, and he joined the army cadets when he was a teenager. Despite facing discrimination, he applied for recruitment several times until he was accepted in 1940. He volunteered to the parachute unit, being one of few who passed training. Later on he did many dangerous tasks; including scoping out and reporting on German assembly points (he laid a 1,400 meter long telephone wire and attached it to a phone in an abandoned farmhouse to do so!). After the wars, he became known once again for saving a man from drowning in Winnipeg. Since his passing, many schools and awards have been named after Prince to honor him.

In total, this has been a wonderful group of graphic novels that taught me a bit of Canadian History. Pauline Johnson’s writings are officially on my to-read list, and I have done further readings on the other individuals.  I truly recommend this collection for those young and old. These titles are available by Interlibrary Loan.

 

Groot by Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger

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Since the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie came out in 2014, comic fans everywhere fell in love with this previously little-known superhero team. Out of the whole group of loveable misfits, my favourite is probably Groot, the sentient alien tree. I think I’m not alone in this because Marvel Comics decided to give Groot his own solo adventure, written by Jeff Loveness and drawn by Brian Kesinger.

 

Even though he’s been to Earth many, many times, in Groot’s opinion he’s never really experienced Earth. So he talks his friend, Rocket Raccoon, into going on a road trip to Earth. The pair take the slow route, starting their adventure by hitchhiking through space (after their vehicle explodes). Along the way they encounter a bounty hunter named Eris who wants the enormous bounty on Groot. When Eris accidentally captures Rocket instead, she decides to use him as bait. But no one accounted for Groot taking his time. He comes to Ricket’s rescue in his typical slow way, having many adventures and meeting many new people on his journey to save his friend.

 

While Groot is a crazy and fun adventure (as befits a superhero story), it’s also a very touching tale about friendship. Groot always finds the best in everyone, no matter who they are and what they can do. He’s also filled with a rather childlike sense of wonder at seeing the beauty of space and the marvels of our own planet; his outlook will have you looking at the world around you with fresh eyes. Groot made me love this big-hearted tree more than I thought possible, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same if you give this graphic novel a chance

Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

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 This is the tragic story of an Ojibwe boy who runs away from a North Ontario Indian School, not realising just how far away from home he is. Along the way he’s followed by Manitous, spirits of the forest who comment on his plight, cajoling, taunting and ultimately offering him a type of comfort on his difficult journey back to the place he was so brutally removed from.  It is based on the short life of Chanie Wenjack (misnamed Charlie by his teachers) who was born in 1954 at Ogoki Post . He was forcibly removed from his home in 1964, when he was nine years old, and taken to the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School over 400 kilometres away in Kenora. He died on 22 October 1966 while trying to walk home along the railroad tracks. Many young victims of the Residential Schools were buried without grave markers. Sometimes their families were not even informed of their death.

Ian Adams wrote ‘The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack’ for Maclean’s magazine not long after Chanie’s death in 1966. One outcome of his death – and countless others – was the first public inquiry into residential schools in Canada. Another longer-term outcome was a multimedia re-telling of Chanie’s story by a group of contemporary authors and musicians.  Joseph Boyden voices two tracks about Chanie on the latest album by A Tribe Called Red, The Halliuci Nation.  Gord Downie from the Tragically Hip teamed up with Jeff Lemire to produce Secret Path, which combines a graphic novel with ten songs, and was also filmed as an animation shown on CBC on the 50th anniversary of Chanie’s death.  Wenjack is a powerful and poignant look into the world of a residential school runaway trying to find his way home.

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John Pateman is CEO of Thunder Bay Public Library.

 

Shakespeare as Graphic Novels

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Classics Illustrated MacbethShakespeare continues to appear in new and usual ways and one of the newest  formats is the appearance of traditional and manga style graphic novels, though the plays have appeared in illustrated editions for hundreds of years. Copies of the plays were illustrated in both adult and children’s editions and proved particularly popular with the Victorian middle class. There was another surge of popularity during the depression and following the Second World War. Classics illustrated which operated between 1941 to 1971 in it’s incarnation did brisk business selling over 200 million copies.

manga shakespeareAs illustrated novels again rise in popularity, its not surprising that Shakespeare has found a whole new audience. graphic shakespeareShakespeare Manga publishes the plays in a manga format and from it’s own advertising claims the works will appeal to  “manga fans and kids that find Shakespeare intimidating”.  A number of companies offer graphic novels in English, including No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels and Shakespeare Graphics but there is also a large market for Shakespeare graphic novels in none English speaking editions, especially in Japan.

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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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Most of us are familiar with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the story of two young people from opposing families who fall in love. But what happens when you make the star-crossed lovers soldiers on opposing sides of a galactic war; soldiers who are determined to survive despite impossible odds? You get Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

 

Saga is about Alana, a soldier from the planet Landfall, and Marko, a soldier from Landfall’s moon Wreath, who have fallen in love and started a family together. Landfall and Wreath have been warring for countless generations; neither side wants to see their soldiers fraternizing with the enemy (never mind starting families together). Alana and Marko are discovered on the planet Cleave right after Alana has given birth to their child. They’re forced to flee into the wilds of the mostly unexplored world, following a map that they hope will lead them to safety.

 

Saga is a science fiction/fantasy blend full of compelling and relatable characters. Alana is a very capable soldier even while recovering from her pregnancy. Her husband, Marko, is determined to be a pacifist after seeing his first battle. Chasing after them, among others, is Prince Robot IV, who suffers from post-traumatic stress; he’s also told that he cannot see his pregnant wife until after he kills Alana and Marko.

 

The series has won multiple awards, including six Harvey awards in 2013 (Best Writer, Best Artist, Best Color, Best New Series, Best Continuing or Limited Series, and Best Single Issue or Story), the 2013 Hugo for Best Graphic Novel, and three Eisner awards annually in 2013, 2014, and 2015. So if you’re looking for an excellent, genre-defying read, Saga is for you.
Shauna Kosoris is a member of the Thunder Bay Public Library staff.