Tag Archives: comics

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!

Interview with Christopher “Merk” Merkley

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face croppedChristopher “Merk” Merkley makes stuff from nothing. Comics, paintings, photography, illustration, tshirts, multimedia, sculptures….whatever he can get his hands on. He has 2 graphic novels under his belt (another one on the way), an ongoing comic strip, a regular weekly piece for Comic Book Resources’ ‘The Line it is Drawn‘ , and fits in as much art and craziness in between those as he can. He is also one third of Zero Issues Comic Podcast with two fellow comic artists, Bry & Kyle.  You can find him online at merkasylum.ca.

Shauna Kosoris:  You did the artwork for Nowadays, a zombie comic that takes place in Northern Ontario.  How did you get involved with that, and how do you know the writer, Kurt Martell?

Merk: Kurt and I used to work together at HMV.  He was studying film at that point.  Then we disappeared and did our own things, but I kept running into him at events, usually during Halloween.  He’d have a mask on and I’d have no idea who he was until he said “Hey. Want to make a comic?”

Kurt had a love of zombie movies and wanted to make one.  Long before the current explosion of zombie stories, he wanted to reinvigorate the genre.  He ended up approaching me to make a comic instead.  From a business standpoint, I get lots of pitches of ideas, but nothing is written.  Kurt was different; he had everything written and he understood it’s a business.  “I don’t want you to work for free,” he said.  So we applied for grants and got one.  We also did fairly well with the Indiegogo campaign.  We were approached by Indiegogo to do talks about it but had to decline because of the distance.

Wow, too bad you weren’t able to go!  Going back to Nowadays, you used a lot of browns and other somber colours in the art.  Why did you choose that colour scheme?

I’m not big on bright primary colours.  And they don’t suit the tone of the book.  Each panel is made up of different photos with locations between Beardmore and Thunder Bay.  We found places on the highway that looked interesting.  The cars are from the junkyard. There were stores in Thunder Bay and Nipigon. Houses out on the highway. I had to take thousands of photos to find the ones that work.  Then I drew the people in before adding textured layers, filling in colour then tonal layers to match.

Originally we weren’t going to do the book using photos. It was just a test at something different but it looked great.  I thought it would be easier not having to do the backgrounds but it took way longer.

I wasn’t sure about asking people if we could take pictures of their businesses to use in our comic with no compensation.  But Kurt had no problem asking the first time.  After that it was a lot easier, and everyone was great about it.

You also did the art for Victor’s Legacy, which was by Andrew Sookram and Matthew Jowett.  How did you get involved with that?

They were both based out of Winnipeg.  I was living in Vancouver at the time.  I don’t know why I looked at it, but they had a Facebook group or page called Starving Writers. I’d never seen anyone looking for collaboration that way.  Usually you run into people and talk.  Those things don’t usually amount to anything.  But we clicked, and did the comic as short chapters available online, and then we eventually collected the first story arc.  We’ve discussed a second volume.

I hope you guys work on it; Victor’s Legacy was a fantastic read!  Thinking of collaborations, how did you get involved in Comic Book Resources’ ‘The Line is Drawn’?

I’d seen it online and thought it was a good idea.  I sent messages asking how to get involved and they ignored me.  Then last December they were looking to expand their pool of artists.  They had tryouts that were like how it’s done now: here’s an idea and draw it in a week.  Then again.  If you couldn’t do that, you weren’t cut out for it. I made it through.

It sounds like a lot of fun.  Who is your favourite character to draw?

I don’t know if I have a favourite character.  I get bored quickly and like to draw different things and different styles.

That’s fair.  Where did you get the idea for your comic strip, Zygote Bop?

It was part of a bigger idea I came up with years ago.  Part of it was two guys who work in a music store, like how Kurt and I worked in a music store.  The absurdity of working in retail.  But the original idea had Felix as the son of a superhero.  Carl wants to be a superhero and idolizes the dad.  It was going to be a quirky look at superheroes in retirement.  But that didn’t suit the format when it got picked up by the Walleye.

I’m going to keep on it now that it’s not in the Walleye.  But I’m really bad with deadlines.  And I’ve got the new strip, Freak Nuts, too. Both are available at Merkstrips.

Along with comics, you work with paintings, photography, illustrations, t-shirts, multimedia, sculpture, and whatever else you can get your hands on.  What’s your favourite medium to work with and why?

Comics easily.  It’s such an underrated genre and a way of expressing a story as art.  It’s coming into its own now more so.  Thirty years ago adults didn’t read them.  They got to a certain age and stopped.  That’s not the case anymore.

I look at comics as modern mythology.  We pass things on through stories, like religion.  We don’t pass things on through lists very much. It’s just a universal thing to pass along ideas, morals, lessons and information through a story.

What are you working on now?

Another book that I’ve written.  Season of the Dead Hours.  Wrote it awhile ago.  It’s going to be smaller than Nowadays.  Closer to Victors Legacy in size. 100 pages or so.  Black and White.  Dealing more with mythology, magic, etc, among other things.

Good luck with that!  Was there a particular artist who inspired you to draw?

All of them.  There’s a couple that stand out but there’s always that continuing awe of seeing both old and new.

I grew up reading comics and copied the pictures.  Then I went to Lakehead and took Fine Art there.  It opened a whole new world of fine art, the gallery experience, art history.  I did gallery art and comics fell to the side.  Then ten years ago I got back to comics.  It was like returning to what I wanted to do.  And it’s super inspiring now that Independent comics are exploding.

That’s so true.  Is there a particular comic you think everyone should read?

There’s some I would’ve said 5-10 years ago life Jeff Smith’s Bone before it got picked up by Scholastic.  The simplicity of his line.  How he’s able to capture the nuance.  Other than that there’s so many independent comics.

And what are you currently reading?

My comic list.  I’ve never had so many.  I try to weed it out for budget reasons.  But there are so many to read.  There’s a slew of Marvel stuff.  I kind of gave up on DC.  Image comics (Saga being the number one).  Black Science, Paper Girls, Fade Out, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Afterlife with Archie, We Stand On Guard, Conan the Adventurer.

And I love finding books on the history of comics, or biographies of creators. I just finished From Shadow to Light: The Life & Art of Mort Meskin by Steven Brower. I’m a comic geek. Head to toe.

Victor's Legacy cover

Interview with Matt Forbeck

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Matt-on-Madeline-IslandMatt Forbeck is an award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author and game designer. He has twenty-seven novels and countless games published to date. His latest work includes the novel Halo: New Blood, the Magic: The Gathering comics, the 2014 edition of The Marvel Encyclopedia, the Monster Academy YA fantasy novels, and the upcoming Shotguns & Sorcery roleplaying game based on his novels.  You can find him online at forbeck.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What came first for you?  Working in game design or working on fiction?

Matt Forbeck: I wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school, but I discovered games in 7th grade, and they hooked me good. I started working on games professionally while I was in college and made a career out of it. It wasn’t until years later that I sold my first novel.

That said, tabletop roleplaying games often contain a lot of fiction. Even while I wrote those games, I was always working at honing my fiction skills, and I think that paid off well in the end.

SK: So how did you get involved with comics?

MF: I started reading comics before I even entered kindergarten, and I’ve kept up with them ever since. When I was with Pinnacle Entertainment, developing the Deadlands RPG, I wrote the first ever Deadlands comic for Image Comics.

Before even that, though, I co-designed the WildStorms collectible card game for Jim Lee’s division of Image. I even sold an inventory issue of WildC.A.T.s to WildStorm way back in 1995 or so, but that was just before Alan Moore took over the title, so it never saw print.

SK: Have you had other projects that haven’t seen print?  Do you have hope that they someday will?

MF: Most of my work has found its way out. At the moment, I have two novels I wrote for the Dust miniatures game that haven’t been released, but I believe that’s still just a matter of time before they come out.

As I said, I also wrote an inventory issue of WildC.A.T.s for WildStorm, Jim Lee’s division of Image Comics, which he then sold to DC. The artist didn’t get very far on it before Alan Moore stepped in to take over the series, way back in the mid-’90s. I don’t think there’s any hope of that ever seeing the light of day, but I had a great time writing it—and I was paid for it too!

SK: That’s the main thing!  You’ve written fiction and comics for some large game companies such as Wizards of the Coast, White Wolf, and Games Workshop.  Has your background as a game designer helped with these assignments?

MF: Very much so. It means that I’m comfortable with the source material and the fans who enjoy it. Also, because I understand exactly how the games work, if I need something in one of my books that doesn’t yet exist, I can design it myself and put it into the story with some level of confidence it’ll fit well.

It also didn’t hurt that I knew people in the fiction departments there from having worked on those companies’ games. Knowing that someone will answer your email does wonders for a writer.

SK: Most definitely!  What was it like to work with 343 Industries on the new Halo novel, Halo: New Blood?

MF: Fantastic. Honestly, I’ve written lots of novels for different companies, and 343 was an absolute pleasure to work with. Their love for the Halo universe shone through in every interaction with them, and their feedback was always helpful and constructive.

SK: That’s wonderful to hear.  Are there any particular challenges when writing a novel set in someone else’s fictional universe as opposed to your own?

MF: When you write a novel for an existing universe, much of the work of building the setting out has already been done for you, and if you’re lucky the universe is already popular and has a huge fan base hungry for your story. That’s all a fantastic help. However, it also means that you can’t just make things up as you go along, as that same fan base is sure to know the universe at least as well as you, if not better. Also, you can’t change things in that universe without permission.

When you write your own original books, you have total control over everything, but you also have to do every bit of the work. It’s daunting, but it can be more rewarding in the long run.

SK: In 2012 you ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in which you were going to write 12 novels in 12 months.  Why did you decide to tackle this amount of writing?

MF: I’m a pretty fast writer. When I’m cooking, I can usually crack out 5,000 words a day and maintain that pace. Writing a dozen short novels in a year came up to 600,000 words, which I figured I could hit.

Of course, I also had to run the Kickstarters, produce the books, market the books, design the covers, and handle dozens of other little details. It was an exhausting but rewarding year.

SK: Would you do anything differently if you were to run another Kickstarter campaign?

MF: I’d not tackle a project that size. It devoured my life, and I’m still playing catch-up with it. However, I will get back to Kickstarter again. My next drive will probably be for a short-story collection, which will include lots of my tie-in work, which my publishers graciously gave me permission to reprint. The great benefit of that project is that it’s already 90% done.

SK: You’ve been involved with a couple of Kickstarter campaigns as a game designer recently (specifically The Titan Series and the Shotguns & Sorcery RPG, which were both successfully funded).  I know you’ve designed board games, card games, miniature games, and roleplaying games throughout your career.  Do you have a favourite type of game to work with?

MF: I always seem to come back to roleplaying games, which are fantastic fun. Collectible games are probably my favorites though, mostly because I like to watch them develop over time and design new wrinkles to breathe fresh life into the game with each release.

SK: Was there a game designer who inspired you to make games?

MF: I followed in the footsteps of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson (who co-created Dungeons & Dragons) of course. The guys who showed me I could make a living at it, though, were Troy Denning and Will Niebling, who both worked at TSR (which published D&D back in the day). They just had so much love for the industry and had so much fun working in it that it became contagious.

SK: Finally, I have a few questions about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

MF: My three biggest influences were J. R. R. Tolkien, Ernest Hemingway, and Raymond Chandler. I loved Tolkien for his worldbuilding, Hemingway for his brutal honesty, and Chandler for his incredible style.

SK: And what are you currently reading?

MF: I just finished up Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls, an excellent time-travel serial-killer thriller set in Chicago. Great, twisty fiction. At the moment, I’m starting Ramez Naam’s Crux, the sequel to his incredible Nexus, which was one of my favorite science fiction novels of the past decade. Great, realistic near-future SF that explores some of the hardest questions about how technology affects us all.

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