Nobody here at Hush Comics loves sports metrics more than I do. A die-hard NBA fan, I frequently rank players, teams and track stats every night to see who I should be picking up on the waiver wire (a term I know, but still do not understand at all) in our fantasy basketball league. It’s not really to be the best, but largely because I love the processes behind it; I love spreadsheets and systemic processes in how I arrive at these decisions. I even made a House of Quality together in order to break down which qualities I value in comic book series. This was all inspired by the creation of our Best of 2014 Comic Books collection of articles (which you should check out! A lot of hard work from our team went into those articles), when I realized that we had not been keeping track of which books were the best throughout the year.
Below is a list of what I consider the Top 20 comic books of the previous month. The opinions of these rankings is solely mine (unless noted), although they are influenced by the weekly review grades that our team doles out. I’m no expert on the ins and outs of the comic book industry, and I admittedly can’t read every book out there, but as long as I have this awesome platform to force my opinion on readers, why not use it? As always, we LOVE sparking conversations about the things we love, or even the things we don’t, so commentary is encouraged!
Hank Johnson: Agent of Hydra
He’s just a normal family guy, trying to cut it in the blue collar goon industry. Trying to place the normal within the insanity that is Battle World creates comedy gold.
As far as political satires go, Prez is hands down the funniest, and is so hyperbolic that the fact that it’s relatable at all is appalling. Root for the little guy in one of DC’s rare non-cape books.
Rasputin is my favorite comic at the moment. So far it’s the only book that’s compelled me to send fan mail. It’s a well written narrative, beautifully drawn, and spectacularly colored. I get something out if every issue I read and feel satisfied. Totally in love with this series. – Jené
Although Kamala briefly got caught in the web that is Secret Wars, her last issue, a heart-warming team up with Captain Marvel herself gave this book a special place on my shelf.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Three of the top five books are led by young women. Coincidence? Hell no! Squirrel Girl is hilarious and relatable – which says a lot since… ya know, she’s a squirrel.
Not even shell-shock could stop Donnie! Things are getting heavy as a battle royale contest between the turtles and Foot knock down the door of the upcoming #50 spectacular.
This is the best JL story since Forever Evil, and the most desparate time we’ve seen the team in of all New52. Geoff Johns continues to write an amazing book.
This is not the same book we read with Endgame. Bruce is in identity crisis mode and Gordon has taken over as Batman. Wacky story aside, Snyder/Capullo produce.
We Stand On Guard
With the right creative team, even Canadians can be interesting. Brian K Vaughan’s new title makes you hate America more effectively than Donald Trump’s presidential run.
Bizarro no am good book. Bizarro am very bad book. Book no am funny. Art is very ugly. Bizarro very normal, and Jimmy Olson (Bizarro’s worstest enemy) never wear disguises. Bizarro no am have hijinks. – Montgomery
We finally learned how Lois spilled the beans about Superman’s identity, and it’s refreshing to see Superman fight an enemy he can’t defeat by punching.
Old Man Logan
While I love seeing an out-of-place Wolverine wander around Battle World in a confused rage, it’s Andrea Sorrentino’s panel layout that really keeps me engaged.
As much as I loved the recently-retired Skottie Young Rocket Raccoon book, Groot is just as adorable. It’s good for all ages, with feel-good lessons in friendship and kindness. Aww.
While the Remender/Craig tag-team reigns champion, I can’t get over just how scathingly manic-depressive this book got this month. It’s a downer for sure.
The deeper we keep falling into the mystery, the further the bottom seems to be. It’s a phenomenal book, but I feel just as lost now as I did at square one.
The Walking Dead
I still look forward to this book every month, but the more I read it, the more I realize that Robert Kirkman is becoming George Lucas 2.0. There’s just too much TWD in the world for me right now. That being said, this new threat is gonna bring back the funk.
E is for Extinction
Thank you, Chris Burnham, for making unsexy comic books cool. His raw art is perfect for this post-Morrison, Morrison-style book, which is as awesome as it is awkward.
Giant Sized Little Marvel AvX
This book makes me feel like vomitting rainbows with each issue. It can be formulaic, but it’s just so darn cute – how could anybody not love this??
Mark, the autistic one-man Scooby gang, is tearing this conspiracy wide open. Although, just because it’s getting bigger doesn’t mean it’s getting better…
It can be silly at times, but that’s part of the charm. Babs Tarr’s art has definitely grown on me. I’m fully on-board after some post-Gail Simone withdrawals.
Most of the Secret Wars: I’m burnt out on Secret Wars. Marvel must be murdering DC in sales as of late, but their long game is tiring fans out.
Shutter and Birthright: For books that started as two of my favorite Image titles, the convoluted stories in both books have derailed their momentum significantly. I don’t expect that too last, though, as both books have the creative teams to handle it.
Wonder Woman: David and Meredith Finch have been a refreshing addition to the book, but the last couple issues have been noticeably lacking in substance or style. Plus, Donna Troy is completely one-dimensional and incapable of independent thought.
Retired books/ Hiatuses (Hawkeye, Saga, Bitch Planet, Sex Criminals): Some of the best books in the biz took the month off, making way for some newcomers to really shine this month!
Wes Craig: Well I was a kid who always wanted to make comic books. I used to write and draw my own superhero stories in grade school. In my teens I made a comic called “J.D.” that was kind of based on me and my friends. I also did other comics like a Viking story, and a story about a man who meets the devil in a bar.
When I graduated from high school I took a three-year course in Illustration & Design. While I was in there I started mailing away samples of work to DC and Marvel Comics. A had a few years of doing that, sending away samples, getting rejection letters. I got really close to a job when a DC editor called me and told me I was on the right track, I kept sending samples with no real response and then a year later I got a call from the same editor basically telling me the same thing but he’d forgotten that he called me the year before. Hahaha.
I went to conventions and pitched ideas to Image Comics too, but I wasn’t quite ready yet so they never got green lit. Eventually I got a gig on a DC Comics title as my first paid gig [Ed Note: Wes’ first title was DC Comics’ Touch]. It got cancelled after only six issues. But my foot was in the door. Since then I’ve worked for DC and Marvel on a bunch of their titles – Guardians of the Galaxy was what I was most known for. When the offers weren’t coming in, I’d take jobs in video games, doing storyboards or character design, and work on my own comics.
Then one day, Rick Remender emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in working with him, I was a fan of his work so I was into it. And that brings us to Deadly Class.
HC: You have a very specific style. Which artists did you draw inspiration from when you were learning how to draw? Who continues to inspire you?
WC: It doesn’t feel like I do have a specific style honestly, but that’s probably something that a lot of artists feel. Anyway, when I was learning to draw I was a big fan of George Perez, his work on Teen Titans was the first comic I collected. Will Eisner’s The Spirit was a big one, I used to pick up black and white reprints of that from Kitchen Sink Press.
I remember the first time I saw Moebius. Katsuhiro Otomo and Masamune Shirow. Brian Bolland. The Image guys like McFarlane were an influence early on. I still go back to a lot of Eisner, Moebius, and Otomo. I love anything from Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly. Jeff Smith. Paul Pope, David Lapham, David Mazzuchelli and a lot of the indie artists these days, people like Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Emily Carrol, Eleanore Davis. The Hernandez brothers. There’s a lot of great stuff out there.
But it’s also funny because some of the stuff you don’t like as a kid can turn into your greatest influence. When I was young I didn’t like Jack Kirby or Mike Mignola. Now they’re two of my favourite artists of all time. I just didn’t get it back then. But that’s a lesson to me as an adult, too; just because you don’t like something right away, don’t automatically reject it – maybe it’s the “shock of the new” and your brain just isn’t willing to accept it yet.
HC: What supplies do you prefer to use? Do you like traditional or digital tools more?
WC: I prefer traditional. I have friends who tell me how fast digital is, but I like the feeling of paper and ink. I use digital too, though. Especially in later stages of Blackhand Comics to adjust colors.
For Deadly Class, it’s deadline driven so I use standard bristol board and Sakura Calligraphy pens and brushes. Those get the job done the fastest for me.
But for Blackhand or other personal stuff I like to change it up and try new things.
HC: What is your process when you sit down to create? Does this change when depending on what role you’re taking on for the project (writer vs artist)? Which is hardest for you?
WC: When I’m drawing Deadly Class, Rick and I usually get on the phone and talk out ideas a bit. Then I’ll get the script (page and panel breakdowns with basic description and dialogue). I usually have ideas for how I want the story to flow, changing page compositions and stuff, and Rick’s always very open to that. The final dialogue is done after I finish all the art. That’s one of my favourite aspects of Deadly Class, it feels very alive the whole time it’s being produced. When I’m doing my own work I tend to plan it to death at the beginning so when I’m doing the actual drawing it’s kind of boring, paint by numbers. So I’m trying to leave more room for improvisation now.
When I write and draw my own comics, I write description, dialogue, and do rough little thumbnail panels all at the same time, then I’ll compose it into a page and go over the dialogue and try to make it work together. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle to try and make it feel like something real is happening on the page, but that’s the challenge.
So yeah, the process changes completely depending on your role. I find writing and drawing my own stuff the hardest, but also the most rewarding.
Creating something and seeing it through the whole way kind of IS comics at it’s purest for me.
HC:I noticed that on your Twitter feed, you love sharing your recent sketches with followers – not just Deadly Class and Blackhand material, but a lot of experimentation with techniques and content. Is there any specific experimental stuff you’ve been wanting to fit into your upcoming books?
WC: Yeah, I have a lot of little experiments I’d love to try out. The thing about it, though, is it has to fit the story. I don’t want to shoehorn anything in that doesn’t belong. But yeah, lots of ideas on layering and “cut-up,” for lack of a better word.
“Layering” has to do with looking at the page and the images as a three dimensional space, layering images and panels on top of each other. Quietly did this very affectively in We3.
And “cut-up” just has to do with how comics work, were actions and sentences are broken up, and it creates this staccato effect. Those are two areas I’d like to explore a lot more.
HC: Is Rick Remender really the biggest asshole in the industry? I know you guys like to give each other a hard time; do you have any stories that would give us an insight as to how your relationship works?
WC: Mr. Remender’s lawyers have informed me that I am to answer all such questions with nothing but glowing praise.
He is a saint.
HC: You, Rick and Lou are probably the best team in comic books right now. Are there any other creative teams in the business that you admire?
WC: Sure. Like I’ve said mostly I’m a fan of cartoonists that do the whole thing themselves but there are a few creative teams that work so well together you’d think it was one person.
I think we’ve worked well together and gotten that effect sometimes. Unfortunately, Lee won’t be working with us going forward, but you can see his work on a bunch of other great Image series like Southern Cross and Wolf. But we have Jordan Boyd working with us now and he’s amazing, and I think we’ve managed to keep things very unified. Also, Rus Wooton on letters really helps bring it all together. That’s my favourite part of the process: seeing a page where we’re all coming together seamlessly.
Anyway, I think Ed Brubaker, Sean Philips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser are great. Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly, too.
HC: Why Image Comics? What about working with them do you enjoy?
WC: Working with Rick was a big draw, but so was working through Image. They’re just really strong right now, they’re making a lot of good decisions and publishing a lot of good books.
HC: If you could clone yourself and jump on to do art for another title in the industry, what would it be?
WC: Honestly, I’d just do more of my own stuff. Blackhand Comics, and other projects I have in mind for the future. I try and get as much of that done between issues of Deadly Class as I can, but it’s tough.
HC: Deadly Class comments on homelessness and the lengths one will go for security. How do you think we can help our homeless population, especially our homeless youth?
WC: Well, I think affordable housing is the thing that stands out the most for me. Cities never invest enough in that kind of thing; they say they will then they just keep building condos for the rich.
Really, I think the best thing is to ask homeless people what they think. But my thoughts on it are that people need dignity and a purpose. They don’t need to be coddled and treated like they’re incapable, they just need a little help, a leg up. And shelter where they can feel secure and human.
HC: Deadly Class seems to be a lightning rod for teenage angst and rebellion. Do you feel the book has transcended to something beyond the book’s stories?
WC: Well, we hope so. It seems to have reached older people who can relive those experiences with some adult perspective. and younger people who are growing up now, and see things they can relate to. The letters we get really blow me away, how passionate people are about it.
That connection people have, I think that’s the part I’m most proud of. It’s a really violent series, but underneath there’s a lot of heart and real feelings. And we try not to treat the assassin angle like it’s “cool.” Killing is a terrible thing, so when it happens, it’s not some victorious moment; it makes the character physically sick, or it damages something inside of them. I don’t know if I’ve always put that across to the audience, but that’s what I try to do.
HC: If you had to choose one of your books’ worlds to live in, which would you choose and why? Who would you want as an ally?
WC: Man, definitely not Deadly Class, that school is terrible. I guess that short story in Blackhand I did called “Circus Day.” That place seemed pretty harmless. I’d just hand out with the clowns and the freaks all day.
HC: You’ve got a T-Shirt on the way, and I’ve been trying to get my hands on a skateboard deck for months now. Do you see Deadly Class ever being branded the way The Walking Dead is one day?
WC: If we ended up with a TV show or a movie, I’d imagine there’d be some more merchandising. Right now, I’d like to keep it pretty simple, though.
HC:You have announced some new Blackhand stories, with more coming soon. How will these differ from the first published volume?
WC: I keep going back and forth on that. I have an overall concept in mind for a second volume, a kind of apocalyptic theme. But there’s other ideas I have too, sometimes I think I’ll just do the first volume and that’s it, other times I want to do it more than anything. So we’ll see.
Right now it’s looking like I’ll be going ahead with it though.There would be a lot more stories in a second volume and a more standard format. But like the first volume, a lot of dark, pulpy weirdness.
Have you ever been lost in a sea of comic books, looking for something new? Something exciting? Something hidden? Our new feature, “Panel Surfing,” explores the abyss of the comic book industry, giving you a spoiler-free look at books we feel deserve some shine.
There are two types of comic book fans: those who love Saga, and those who just haven’t read it. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have created their own world. It’s part romance novel, part intergalactic sci-fi thriller, and consistently one of the best books on the market. The book follows Alana and Marko, each former militia on opposing sides of an intergalactic war. The story starts simply enough; the two have found true love with each other and made a child, a life which is (whether they like it or not) is the metaphorical olive branch that the higher-ups of their respective sides do not want around.
The story gets deeper, with a cast of well-rounded, complex characters that have the capacity for love, evil, and humor. While Alana and Marko are the true protagonists, they are each capable of poor or selfish choices at any given time – the same way that even the “bad guy” Prince Robot IV is capable of virtuosity. Oh, and yes, there is a Prince Robot. He’s a guy with a television for a head. There are also anthropomorphic spiders and trees, a disemboweled ghost babysitter, and all other types of ill shit.
Saga is drawn by Fiona Staples. That name might sound familiar because of her acclaim from Saga, various variant covers in the industry, or the role of lead artist on the upcoming Archie reboot with Mark Waid. Whatever the reason, she’s worth your devotion. Her art style is both classical and modern, harsh and delicate. It’s perfectly suited for capturing the beauty and exotic nature of Saga, while still being able to show some really gross and violent – especially in some of the more detailed full-page spreads.
There isn’t a specific demographic for Saga because it’s for everybody. If you’re not a fan of sexually crude material, it might not be for you. It’s not that it’s constantly explicit, but there is definitely “adult content” in there. It’s like the comic book fan’s equivalent of those softcore porn romance novels your mom reads, with a cast of characters designed by a really creative high school student and plot points written by Joss Whedon on LSD. If you’re not reading Saga right now, I won’t judge you. You have to let go of your excuses and just dive in.
Michael Moreci’s 2014 mini-series Roche Limit (published by Image Comics) has been optioned for a film.
Heavy Metal has obtained the rights.
Roche Limit debuted in September 2014 as a 5-issue mini-series. There are two more 5-issue mini-series to follow. The second installment, #1 of which was released in May, is called Roche Limit: Clandestiny.
The series is a sci-fi/noir concept, following the disappearance of Bekkah Hudson, on the colonized plant of Roche Limit. Her sister decides to investigate and winds up in the tangles of a crime ridden society.
Seth Sherwood, writer of Leatherface, is set to write the screenplay.
Personally, I loved the concept and stylization of Roche Limit. I am interested to see what a movie would look like because the art was so good. I look forward to delivering more news on this project.
Fresh from Denver Comic Con, we met up with Denver comic book artist Zak Kinsella about his work, what inspired him as a kid, his views on how Denver is changing, and what’s next for him. Artist and writer on books like Midspace,” King Maul, and Outré Veil, Kinsella’s wit, expression and honesty is what draws readers to his work. He has also worked for the Westword and The New York Times and has some exciting news about where he might be headed next.
Hush Comics: What made you want to be an artist?
Zak Kinsella: I think it really popped into me in junior high. I was always drawing beforehand. My mom’s an artist… Mostly it was just getting back into comics when I was in junior high, like X-Men. That really popped for me. I thought, “I’m going to start drawing these things. These comic books.”
HC: Did you start with drawing those characters?
ZK: Yeah. I had been used to drawing before so drawing outside in the real world, like life drawing, [I thought] “well, let’s try drawing some muscly dudes.” And then I realized I love it.
HC: How did you get started doing that professionally?
ZK: I decided I wanted to. I started putting out my own books and before I was an illustrator— a pretty successful one, too— and I’m a pretty successful one right now, too, but you get to a point in the road where you think, “Man, illustration’s really cool and I’ve done cool work but it’s still not comic books.” They have this really weird grasp on you. They’re really the road less taken and they’re way more fun than drawing for Men’s Health or something like that or even New York Times, which I’ve done before. I mean, that’s big name stuff but it’s still not [as] fun [as] comics. I didn’t want to be one of those people that was stuck in what they hated doing.
HC: What about comics inspires you most? What about X-Men inspired you as a kid?
ZK: I moved around a lot as a kid, but we grew up in Texas and I don’t like football, I don’t play sports [except for] swim team… so that’s kind of like the outcast. If you’re not playing football, you’re not accepted. [Reading] the X-Men as a kid it was like, “These guys are always getting crapped on while they’re trying to do a good job at something.” And that was like, “I’m on the swim team!” “Oh, great job. You don’t play football. Let’s punch you…” A lot of those themes are repeated throughout the X-Men, plus, with those comics they’re exciting because they’re not like a lot of the other mainstream comics. They deal with a lot of progressive feminism and acceptance and love and stuff that’s just really cool while all at the same time [there’s] dudes in tights punching each other. It made progressive-ism accessible to a young man. It’s not your typical power struggle fantasy. It straddles those boundaries but if you look at their best character Storm. I mean, she was punk rock Storm.
HC: Is she your favorite character?
ZK: No, I was actually more of a Nightcrawler [fan] and more than anything else I was a Cyclops fan. Everyone’s like, “Okaaaay,” but I love that guy. He gets the job done. Everyone thinks he’s a tool but tools get the job done.
HC: You seem to illustrate for a lot of projects in the science fiction vein. What do you like most about that genre that keeps you coming back for more?
ZK: It’s what I grew up on. X-Files was a big thing for me, but also growing up as a kid I used to read these things called, Time Life’s Mysteries of the Unknown. They were just these dumb books about the outer limits. Twilight Zone was a big thing [for me and so was] In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy. All those things and then, a healthy dose of British science fiction on PBS. I lot of these things came from my mom, honestly. We’d watch Doctor Who thirty years before anyone followed it. [We thought,] “Oh, Doctor Who sounds pretty cool.” [I also liked] the obvious stuff like Star Wars. A lot of that stuff is influential. Science Fiction does such a great job of critiquing humanity while being like, “Hey, this takes places with robots in outer space.” It’s just cool.
I feel like [in my own work] I feel like I have much more of a creative license. I can make stuff up. “I have no idea what this planet would look like. Let’s just make it up. What the hell.” I also find space to be a very romantic backdrop. Like in The Final Frontier, there is so much space unexplored. You can’t even believe what we’re going to run into out there and that leaves infinite possibilities for storytelling.
HC: What’s it like working with a comic book writer? Can you explain that collaborative dynamic?
ZK: I’ve had a couple of good experiences and a couple of bad experiences. Sometimes their excitement can bleed into anxiousness and then they’re always bugging you…
HC: Kind of feels like they’re nagging you?
ZK: Yeah. I mean, it’s exciting and it’s something we’re both stoked to work on together, but I have to balance the book I’m working on right now with freelance work… But it has to be a collaboration or that sort of thing just sort of starts to grow like a cancer in a friendship and kills it. I had a really trying experience with that last year. I had to walk off a book, and I have no regrets about that. It was just too much for me.
HC: It’s a lot to deal with. You both are sort of demanding on each other.
ZK: Well, yeah because you want it to be the best and put your best foot forward, otherwise what’s the point? But, you have to set boundaries. I’ve left a couple of books like that where I’ve said, “Look, this isn’t working unless we figure this stuff out. We gotta put our big boy pants on and deal with this.” I generally like working with writers, but I’ve also come to realize that I’m pretty good at writing myself, so that’s why I’ve started branching out. I wouldn’t not recommend [working with a writer.] “Never work with a writer,” that’s dumb!
HC: What’s your favorite type of collaboration? What dynamic do you prefer?
ZK: Last year when I worked on King Maul I worked with a guy who used to be an editor for Marvel and it was a great experience because he knew when to lay off and when to put the pressure on… Someone who knows what they want to do and is free to let me experiment a little and find my own voice in the mix [is what I prefer] because I find that if it starts off as collaboration and then ends up with me just getting told what to do then it’s like, “Well this kind of sucks. I don’t have control over how the story’s going to look. I’m not trying to change plot parts of it really, but I like to have some sort of input into where it’s going.” That’s really the best part of it. If you’re just going to be a gun for hire, then I don’t see the point. You need to have room to spread your wings. I’ve known a lot of guys who get in there and do big books for big companies and it just leaves them emotionally drained and they’re like, ‘I want time to do my own book but I can’t afford that,’ so they kind of paint themselves into a corner. But it’s changing, so that’s good.
HC: How do you feel like it’s changing?
ZK: I can kind of trace it to Image [Comics], really. All that Walking Dead money? They’re like, “Yeah, let’s put out some cool stuff and get some real big creators in to do it.”
HC: They do a lot of indie stuff.
ZK: [Laughing] But not like “sad-bastard-depressed indie.” To put it subtly. That kind of indie is good too, but… They’re like a television station that’s not like Syfy… You’ve got a variety of things.
HC: There’s an Image comic for everyone.
ZK: I’d say so.
HC: You say on your website that you sketch and ink by hand and color digitally. Why do you prefer that method?
ZK: I like to make a mess. No Wacom stylus is ever going to give me the same feeling that a brush does. Really with art, whatever tool works for you, good, you know? If you’re going to use Manga Studios to make your comics, cool. That’s awesome. It’s just not for me… I use a lead holder and that helps give me brush lines with my pencil. My pencils aren’t too tight anymore, either. The brushes do the heavy lifting. I would have to change my pencil style if I ever got an inker. I just love the feel of the brush. That’s honestly all it is. With coloring digitally, I’ve been using a lot of watercolor lately and ink wash and graphite. You can manipulate those in different ways to get different types of texture with your digital coloring as well… Digital also allows me a physical piece I can sell to someone afterwards and I do sell a pretty decent amount of work at conventions and online.
HC: I love your “Disappearing Denver” piece. What struck you personally about Five Points that inspired you to draw that?
ZK: When I first moved there a couple of years ago it was still pretty grim and gritty, if I can relate it to comic book terminology. But the thing about that place is it had so much class. A lot of the buildings are just beautiful. It reminded me a living in the South.
HC: How so?
ZK: Just the architecture style and the fact that’s it’s not all white washed [but] now it’s becoming gentrified.
HC: I really hate a lot of modern architecture.
ZK: I do as well. I find it to be absolutely ugly, lego, Chipotle architecture with only mutual colors. I think a bigger part of it is people come in and they don’t respect the culture of the area. I chose that neighborhood because the rent wasn’t too expensive at the time and… I used to go to a lot of warehouse shows and Larimer Lounge shows. Monkey Mania was over there. That place was cool. I was so sick of being in Highlands Ranch or Littleton and the only person of color you’d see if mowing a lawn, you know? It’s like, “Dude this place f***ing sucks, man.”
Now…it’s just a breeding ground for violence with people coming out of the Rockies games drunk… My neighbor’s been there since 1942. His family has been in that house next door and some of the stories he has of the neighborhood changing over the last 60 years is just gonzo. So, you start to lose that sense of history and love and culture. That’s what brought it around for me. I just thought it was sad… And that’s the cool part about comics is that I can make a comic about that and have it speak as loud as anything else out there… Art should be a pipe bomb… A lot of people who complimented that strip said, “Wow, this is what’s going on. This is exactly what’s going on.”
HC: I read an article in Westword that mentioned your involvement with a comedy show called “Picture This.” Can you talk a little bit about that collaboration?
ZK: It was really cool. They’re a touring comedy troupe. They’ll do a set of standup comedians and have an artist pair up with each of them and they animate their set live. I did really quick sketches. I had the opportunity to work with Adam Cayton-Holland… I love standup. It’s awesome. I think comic book artists and comedians share some of the same— not saying great qualities but— we love this and it doesn’t pay a lot… but it’s what we’re going to do… A comedian has a totally different set of tools [than I do] and they have to be up in front of people doing it, which is…[ He shakes his head, his eyes wide with faux fear.] Nope, nope, nope…. Adam did like ten minutes of standup while I was drawing right behind him to kind of mimic that. We were rifting off each other. It was pretty cool. We have very similar senses of humor and tastes…
HC: Was that nerve-racking to be in front of people?
ZK: No, I was off in the corner. He would point out to me and he’d ask me [something] and I’d draw in response. It’s so cool because [Holland] has a TV show on True TV now… and he’s from here. It’s freaking awesome… That was a lot of fun. I can’t wait to do it again, actually. It was a little nerve-racking but at the same time it was pretty cool. I just worked at Rock Comic Con drawing live in front of crowds so that doesn’t bother me anymore. [It’s the] same thing with conventions. I’ll do commissions while talking to people. I have no problem drawing anywhere at any time anymore.
HC: Why do you think most of your audience is female?
ZK: I’m not afraid to talk to people without that judgmental tone, like “You haven’t read Superman #238 where he rides a robot?” Like, who cares?
HC: I feel like a lot of nerds try to play gatekeeper. Like, “shut up. There was a time when you didn’t know anything about this, that or the other thing.”
ZK: Right, and that’s the thing with gatekeepers… [There was] that kid who had [a] Doctor Strange thing who was saying, ‘Oh man! They’re making a Doctor Strange movie! Awesome!’ and the dealer kicked him out of his booth because he didn’t know anything. Like, what kind of a short sighted dipshit are you to say [that?] Instead, “Oh, you want to know more about him? I’ve got 40,000 books about Doctor Strange. Dip in on this, bro.” [He said something like,] “Ugh. Get out of my booth you unworthy maggot!”… If I was at that convention I would have gone and taken a dump in that guy’s booth. “F*** your elitism.” Right? I won’t deal with it.
HC: I’ve been told you have some exciting news. What’s next for you?
ZK: [He hesitates.]
HC: Are you not allowed to give away any big news yet?
ZK: I guess I can talk about my experiences with what I’m working on right now. I went to Emerald City Comic Con and Vertigo was giving out appointment times. They were like, “Hey, come pitch to us. We’re looking for new people,” basically. I got one by the end of the show and at the end of the show I went there and I pitched something that I’m working on right now called Outré Veil… and they liked it a lot so they gave me their card to follow up with them. For the last three months you can go through a workshop process with the pitch. Ends up Vertigo decided not to do Science Fiction. They were like, “We’re going to pass on this. However, we might want to use you as an artist here soon, and we’re open to more ideas from you.” So I’m working on another one with them right now. But I’ve got some buddies who want to do some books for me as well, too so I’m working on a pitch for another company right now and that one I definitely can’t talk about. That one’s pretty exciting. It’s going to be really cool.
I just want to get Outré Veil done and I’m working on a book about my uncle, too… I had never done comics [that are] autobiographical because I was like, “This is a bunch of sad sack of shit.” I respect it, but it’s not for me. And then I went through- it wasn’t a bad breakup but it was really tough because it kind of came out of nowhere. I was like, “This sucks.” So, I started going to Denver Drink and Draw and one of my buddies there was like, “Why don’t you make a comic out of this?” and it just came out of [that.] I love that group because we challenge each other. And it’s always an open environment. There’s no real shaming [or] judging… So I put out a short comic just trying to work out my feelings and it went over really well. If you think putting your artwork out there that’s about chimpanzees in space… it’s nothing compared to putting something out about someone you have a breakup with… It was a huge, huge thing to do. But when I put it out, I got a lot of, “Wow, this is awesome. What’s next?”
And then it just kind of hit me, “Man, I should make a book about [my uncle] Dan.” You’re just trying to suss out your feelings about things. Growing up, he had a lot of issues like ADHD and drug addiction, you know? And finally, as he was cleaning up his life- spoiler alert- he dies in a motorcycle accident. He died instantly, which was kind of nice. I always decided to do it in a sketchbook format. It’s tiny. I come here [to City ‘o City] and I work with Noah Van Sciver a lot. He’s been doing all his comics that size so I thought, ‘Why don’t I do them like that?’ It’s been really good.
HC: I feel like creative non-fiction affords a lot to both the author and the reader.
ZK: Yeah. I’ve been thinking of doing more personal ones not so much about death as well but dating right now is such a shit show with all the apps and being broken up with over text and stuff like that. Are you all just devolving? What’s going on? I’m trying to make it so it’s not whiney and awful.
HC: Honest but not “Woe is me!”
ZK: Right, because you read so many comics that are like that on the alternative press. It would be nice to have something that’s indicative of the times right now that someone can look at 50 or 40 years back and think “Alright. That’s how it was.” Separating the ego from the artist can be an uphill battle. It’s like reading a Hemingway novel. It can be like walking through mud, reading that guy’s prose. It’s just tough.
HC: A lot of literature romanticizes pain. A lot of authors don’t have a bullshit detector. That’s why I like stuff like The Fault in Our Stars or Juno. It talks about heavy stuff but it doesn’t romanticize it.
ZK: There’s nothing romantic about this. It just kind of sucks. How do you make this point of “this is hurting. This sucks,” but also to be optimistic? To be like, “Look, it’s not always like this,” and I’m having a lot of fun [drawing about pain] but holy shit, this can be draining. And that’s how comics are. This is tough, man.
Howard the Duck started out in the pages of the comic titled Adventure into Fear #19, which was released in 1973, as just a small cameo in the larger story about the character Man-Thing. In fact Howard would only be known for being in Man-Thing books for the next couple years because after the Adventure into Fear series ended, Howard got his own back up feature in Giant-Size Man-Thing.
During this short run, Howard usually faced off against horror parody characters who most of the time were even more ridiculous than Howard himself, including another favorite of mine, Man-Frog. You got to try and make an alien duck not feel too weird, so why not throw him in with the weirder guys to make him look … normal? After all, Howard may have had humor but he was not just some throw away character because soon after the Giant-Size Man-Thing ended, Howard got his own series that got rid of the horror parody characters and focused much more on making him a substantial character for Marvel Comics.
It was 1976 when Howard finally graduated from the ranks of Man-Thing and got his own running series. This self-titled series ran for 33 issues and one king size annual, and most of this series was actually written by Steve Gerber who is one of the original co-creators of Howard, although the artist Val Mayerik did not return and Gene Colon took his place for most of this series.
This initial run saw Howard battle depression and suicide, rescue sexy women, defeat dinosaurs and living statues, and even team-up with Spider–Man and all that is only within the first issue! A lot of small and yet iconic things came from this short series – especially Howard’s adventures into politics and his run for President. Across many Marvel mediums you can see “Howard for President” ads. Marvel even produced “Howard for President” pins for fans. Howard even got on the cover of Foom Magazine during this time in a wrap around cover with people like Nick Fury, The Thing, and J. Jonah Jameson showing their support.
But this series also went through quite a rough time; Steve Gerber had difficulties writing, and there were a couple of huge legal battles over creative control between Marvel and Steve Gerber and Disney complaining Howard looked too much like Donald Duck.
The writing difficulties were apparent in issue #16 a, “Special once in a lifetime album issue” that did not have any plot to it and was just musings about writing from Gerber. This issue did gain a popular following, because it was something never done before, but true Howard fans felt a little ripped off. The lawsuits were what ultimately destroyed Howard, leaving the series in hiatus for 6 years between 1980- and 1986 for it to return for just two more issues but without Steve Gerber and with the addition of pants, thanks to Disney.
The return of the comic in 1986 was released in anticipation for the one thing that has cursed Howard as being known as plain foul instead of just a waterfowl for years – the Howard the Duck film. This 1986 film, produced by George Lucas, seemed to have all the right ingredients but suffered from the recipe being written wrong in the first place. Even with stars like Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, and Tim Robbins, the film couldn’t find its footing and never made it past anything but cult status. Although, even now, most people don’t admit liking the flop. Marvel loved Howard during this time and really thought he could be huge, so this was the first real Marvel Comics character to be put on the big screen with this capacity.
While the fiasco of a film was going, Steve Gerber was off doing his new thing for Image Comics and had created a character among his legal difficulties for them called Destroyer Duck. This caused even more controversy for Howard because Destroyer Duck was just Howard with guns. But this character would actually become part of a major crossover event with Savage Dragon from Image and Spider-Man and Gambit for Marvel. During this, Gerber was brought on to write because Howard was going to make an appearance and Marvel told him they wanted him to be the only writer for Howard at the time. But it turns out Howard had a couple other appearances in comics at the time that Gerber had not been invited to write, which left Gerber feeling rather betrayed. This decision brought on a whole different side to this series and made it more of a study of the behind-the-scenes drama of comics than a comic itself. In the Image Comics issue for this crossover, it was written that Howard actually stayed in the Image Comics universe and a “soulless” clone was taken back to be Howard in the Marvel universe, which was Gerber’s big “up yours” to Marvel. After this it led to Howard and his partner Beverly changing their names to Leonard the Duck and Rhonda and then dying their feathers/hair and entering the witness protection program in their new universe. This did ultimately give these “new” characters a home, as they were different enough that Marvel let Gerber keep them to appear in Image and Vertigo comics
Howard did not appear very much for many years until Marvel decided to launch an adult comic line titled MAX Comics. This series actually saw Gerber return to Marvel to write Howard, but this time there was quite the twist, as he was now turned into a mouse, which was likely a dig at Disney for the previous lawsuit. This series delved into more violent and graphic themes while also staying true to the pop culture clashing Howard we saw before. This was only a six-issue limited series and didn’t gain much popularity. Oddly enough, the next Howard project was the exact opposite of this; Marvel decided to make a very kid-friendly Howard series that ran for four-issues and did not help him recover at all from the travesty of his film and the burning piles of feathers it left behind.
Marvel even gave Howard a cameo in She-Hulk #9 where he tries to sue George Lucas over the film and what Howard was promised from it during this time, showing that even Howard knew he was better than his own movie. After She-Hulk #9 and some sporadic years of cameos and short lived series, Howard had a short adventure with Generation X where he ended up saving them from the villain Black Tom by lighting him on fire with his cigar. Afterwards, he went on to have a much larger adventure with the team The Daydreamers where they traveled together through the dimensional by-ways, where they battled a Doctor Doom look alike who was really Franklin Richards repressed emotions. The latter though saw Howard get to return home to Duckworld for just a small amount of time to see he is a hero among his people and also see his parents, before it is revealed it is an illusion, sadly leaving Howard and the Daydreamers back where they started the adventure and Howard feeling a little bit more like a fish out of water when they get back to Earth.
From here, it was shorter adventures for Howard but some with a lot more meaning as he found himself involved in a lot of the major events in recent years including Fear Itself, Civil War, and is involved in multiple ways in Marvel Zombies. For Fear Itself, Howard put together a team of Himself, She-Hulk, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Nighthawk to track down Man-Thing who freaked out and went into a uncontrollable rage because of the immense amount of fear across the world. Howard’s team (The Fearsome Four) got to Man-Thing and subdued him in time to save the whole world, making Howard incredibly important once again.
In Civil War, Howard was attempting to register under the Superhuman Registration Act, but in doing so, learned that he had actually caused lots of trouble for the government with his lowlife style, so the government doesn’t even register him as a person. This overjoys Howard since it means no taxes, jury duty, or other obligations the government brings with having you as its citizen, but then in other places Howard is seen saying he was pro-registration until they said he had to quit smoking cigars, and he obviously went and joined the anti-registration side immediately.
Last but not least for these events is Marvel Zombies and the immense amount of stories spawning from that. Howard appeared in multiple stories for Marvel Zombies including eating the Bruce Campbell’s Ash in Marvel Zombies vs Army of Darkness and most notably becoming an agent of A.R.M.O.R. and teaming up with Machine-Man in Marvel Zombies 5 aka Marvel Zombies Destroy! to travel across the multiverse killing zombies and bringing back samples to Morbius the Living Vampire. Which brings us to modern times and where Howard stands now…
This last year saw a huge boost in Howard’s popularity as we finally saw his triumphant return to the big screen, even if it was just of couple seconds, in Guardians of the Galaxy. It was originally just a cool cameo thrown in because the director James Gunn loved the character. Now it has become one of the most iconic post credit sequences the Marvel cinematic universe has given us. The short cameo brought about only the second Howard figure ever to be produced with the Funko! POP figures.
And now Howard is getting a new series starting this week, written by Chip Zdarsky and art done by Joe Quinones. In the first issue, we see a sequel of sorts to the post credits sequence in Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as establish him as a private investigator here on the good old Earth—616. So now that you know Howard’s past, go to your comic shop, pick up Howard the Duck #1 and hold his future in your hands Wings!
Howard the Duck #1 is available now at your local comic shop!
Art: Sean Phillips (Hellblazer, WildC.A.T.S., Sleeper, Criminal)
SCORECARD (each category ranked on a 10-point scale):
Storyline – 10
Art – 9
Captivity and Length – 10
Identity – 8
Use of Medium – 7
Depth – 9
Fluidity – 10
Intrigue/Originality – 10
The Little Things – 7
Overall Awesomeness – 10
Fatale: Death Chases Me is not an easy book to sum up in a nutshell version of itself, and it jumps straight into the action and ever twisting storyline so please forgive me if I seem to struggle in hashing it out for you. This is a continuing storyline, but it begins in modern day with a man, Nicholas, who is pivotal to the endearing story, but you won’t see much of him throughout Death Chases Me. He meets Jo at the funeral of a “miserable old man” named Dominic whom was his father’s only friend. She claims he is there because Dominic and her grandmother were in love once. He was a writer and his estate has been left in Nicholas’ hands. When he goes to look around the old house he discovers an unpublished manuscript, one that predates anything Dominic had published. Just as he is about to open it, some men show up outside and out of nowhere Jo appears to shoot down one of the men and tears Nicholas away in the “nick” of time (you see what I did there? I’m so punny). A car chase ensues just as Nicholas is beginning to question the what, how, and why of Jo and it ends in an explosion that leaves Nicholas down one leg and very confused in the hospital, clutching onto only the memory of Jo making sure he had Dominic’s unpublished manuscript. At this point the story travels back in time, to a young woman named Josephine and the eager young reporter, Dominic or “Hank” she is meeting at a bar. From here, the story develops into so many different layers involving mystery, betrayal, adultery, mobsters, and Lovecraft-ian demons, monsters and occultists.
Full disclosure: I was blown away by this book. It was not at all what I expected, and I didn’t lose interest for a single moment. I read it as a graphic novel (obviously) but the single issues were perfectly seamed together. It read much more like a novel than a comic for me, even though I was turning pages a lot more and going from panel to panel, the fluidity was flawless. I’m a big Lovecraft fan myself; I really attached to his ideas about what horrors could exist within other dimensions and what frail specimens we humans would be if those boundaries ever came down. Therefore, anything that plays with his ideas is always intriguing to me but Fatale: Death Chases Me is one of the best I’ve seen.
The story is intricate and mysterious, and Ed Brubaker took special care to reveal only enough details to keep the reader from being frustrated but to still keep you guessing the whole time. I’ve finished the first book and I still don’t know what or who Jo is, I just know that I’m utterly fascinated with her. She can manipulate and control people’s minds as she needs, and my god does that ability jump right off the page because I was enthralled with her. She’s beautiful, she dangerous, and she’s vulnerable – what more could you want!?
The story does have it downsides, but those are really just horrifying things happening to a devastated pregnant woman and her 8 month fetus. This element does not bring the story down, but it was a little hard to read. And believe me, coming from me that is saying something. It wasn’t graphic by any means, just really, really dark. But that truly is one of Fatale’s selling points; the world is a dark and twisted place and most people are oblivious to it. Jo unfortunately knows all of these evils, and inevitably she has to use some people to escape them and others – the one’s she loves – become targets of it.
The whole thing reads like a really well done horror noir, which is tough to pull off. When it’s scary there’s no cheese factor, and the dialogue is extremely believable and strong – especially considering its noir format and how easily that can go awry.
I honestly feel like I’m struggling to do this book proper justice because the truth is it left me kind of speechless. But not completely speechless, like I want to tell anyone within earshot that they should totally check this book out because it was so amazing, but then if they ask me why I’m at a loss for words. Because… I don’t know! Because it was freaking awesome! It was creepy! And kind of addicting, and when I got to the last page I was kind of pissed I had to stop. Read it because that’s why!