When I started writing this last week, I cursed myself by starting with the sentence, “I’m going to keep this short.” That might have been possible if I broke this into two parts… But I am going to try very hard to force myself into more frequent, shorter newsletters. I need to keep reminding myself that if I get this system up and running I can finally get the fuck off twitter and work on reclaiming more of my time and my headspace.
I’m working hard on building a whole new system of productivity that involves not staying up all night writing (What?!), waking up early in the morning and heading to my office in Williamsburg (Going outside in the MORNING?!?!), and actually working out a little bit every day (Shut the front door!).
I want to build my life around more active, deliberate choices, and the more time I spend on algorithmic platforms, the less time I spend day to day choosing what I want to be thinking about and focusing on. When I engage with something I want to fully engage with it.
We’ll see if I succeed at that. But honestly, I think I want to be off social media entirely by the end of the summer. I’m building up my @ReadTinyOnion account as the offramp for my Twitter following, and I need to figure out how to better stay in touch with some folks I only really talk to in Twitter DMs and Facebook messages, but there are lots of ways to stay in touch with folk. IDK, we’ll see if I stick to my plans here, but frankly I can’t afford to lose days to the blob like I used to. My partner has told me a million times to stop thinking of myself like a robot, but I do still think I can self-program myself a bit better, and feel better doing it.
Now that I’m fully vaccinated it has been very nice to start layering some normalcy back into my day to day life. I love my morning commute. I walk through a park on my way from the subway station to my office, and get to see people up and around. I have been slowly outfitting my office to make it a place I enjoy coming to every single day. I recently got some snake plants, which are supposed to be very hard to kill, but I am going to do my best. I’m getting a rowing machine in here next, which should arrive next week. Then I need to pick some comic book art from home to throw up on the walls in here. It’s been a fun project, outfitting the space and making it my own.
I’m going to spare all of you one of my longer rants about the comics medium this newsletter, not so much because I don’t have thoughts running through my head… Mostly, I would rather you all read a handful of substantive interviews I did recently.
I love doing substantive interviews, and talking about the industry as a whole.
I spent a long time hating doing press, because I don’t particularly think that doing an interview in the middle of a story-arc does much of anything to sell any comic books. That was part of the reason I started doing this newsletter, because I think it is a better means of communicating directly with my audience and also directly with retailers… But when you take away the idea of trying to sell comics, and actually get into the nitty gritty about WHY I’m doing what I’m doing, and what I think about the structure of the industry as a whole, I’m more interested in rambling.
I think SEO driven clickbait really killed comics websites for a good while, while social media really became the real central forum of comic industry thought, but social media has such massive faults. There’s no room for nuance, you can take anything out of context, and the platform has no memory. Someone might have an insightful thread on a subject, but that thread will be gone tomorrow. One of the big things that I remember saying in an early newsletter is how we need to start writing down more of our histories, because the last 15 years of comic book thought has effectively been written on an etch-a-sketch board.
It’s heartening to see a new guard showing up actually looking to talk about comics in a real way, rather than echoing the Wizard Magazine school of regurgitating press releases with a bit of snark. We’re at an important moment in the history of our industry, and we should all be talking about it a bit more. It’s a moment where I think creators have a tremendous power to shape what the next ten years of the industry are going to look like, if we choose to shape it, and if we don’t choose to, the publishers are going to do the shaping.
BUT, I digress… Let’s get down to business.
THE NICE HOUSE ON THE LAKE
Let me apologize in advance, to the folks who follow me on Twitter. I have been and I am going to continue to be pretty insufferable until Sunday as I push THE NICE HOUSE ON THE LAKE in advance of our 5/9 FOC.
Let’s get the basics out of the way first. THE NICE HOUSE ON THE LAKE is a horror comic, written by me, with art by Alvaro Martinez Bueno, who I worked with on both Detective Comics and Justice League Dark (and who I hope to be working with for the rest of my career). It is colored by the incredible Jordie Bellaire. It is lettered by the team at Andworld Design, who also helped build the book’s design pages. It is edited by Chris Conroy and Marquis Draper and is being released by DC Comics Black Label.
We have an amazing open to order variant by my DOT partner in crime Martin Simmonds.
And a 1:25 cover by my SIKTC partner in crime Werther Dell’Edera with Giovanna Niro.
It will release on Tuesday, June 1st.
Some very cool people have said some very, very kind things about the book. (Excuse my janky screenshot collage)
It’s been solicited as having a 12-Issue first “season” and if folks show up for it, there’s a Season 2, and a Season 3 in my head… But the 12 issues will tell a complete story in and of themselves. Alvaro spent months designing the titular house in the book, and the land it sits on. I am so excited to get to show it to you over the course of this series. If you’re one of the cool comics news sites, you reaaaaaaally should try to do something in depth with Alvaro on the design choices in the book. Get him to show off some of the blueprints he put together while he was building this.
There’s a twist to the ending of the first issue. A twist you are not going to want spoiled, to feel the full impact of it all. So I recommend getting in on this one early.
This one is personal on a few different levels… It’s personal because it’s the book I’ve definitely cannibalized my real life the most for. The characters are hybrids of real friends, and one of the central figures of the book is essentially just me. I’ve said in a few places that if THE WOODS was the comic I needed to write to process my teenage years, this is the book I needed to write to process my twenties. But it’s also personal in a bigger picture kind of way…
Let’s flash back to the summer of 2019… SIKTC is going to launch in a couple of months and I’m starting to get the sense that it might hit harder than I originally expected. I’d been talking to DC for a few months about taking over Batman after the Tom King run, but it’s the overperformance of SIKTC that cements that and basically gets me the gig. I’ve written about half of the first issue of THE DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH, waiting for Martin Simmonds to finish his commitment to the miniseries DYING IS EASY. I finally get the official approval of Eric Stephenson right at the end of the summer. At that point, WYND is going to be a trilogy of original graphic novels, and I’ve written about the first hundred pages of book one. And then, on the heels of the Batman decision and the SIKTC launch, DC approves THE NICE HOUSE ON THE LAKE as the project that Alvaro Martinez Bueno and I step onto after we finish our run on Justice League Dark.
I realize that my number one goal over the next few years, is to channel the excitement and spotlight of the Batman titles into my creator-owned work across three companies. My understanding is that I will only have Batman from Issues #86-100, so I need to do everything in my power to cage that energy and pay it forward. I start realizing that I want to create a brand that encompasses all of that work, and I commission Dylan Todd to work up the Tiny Onion Studios logo, and I realize that I need to start a newsletter.
Which is all to say that THE NICE HOUSE ON THE LAKE is really the last key work in this wave of my career. It’s the last book that I fully come up with before the launch of SIKTC #1. It’s changed since then, of course, a year living in quarantine definitely changed the course of this series in a LOT of ways, but since the book is about character and horror, the core essence of the book, and the direction its heading in hasn’t really changed at all. I know what my next solo-written creator owned books are going to be, and they are all informed by the lessons I learned while writing all of these books, but NHOTL, SIKTC, DOT, and Wynd come from the same raw pit of creativity I was feeling two years ago.
The Final Order Cut-Off is going to be this upcoming Sunday, May 9th. You all know how tough those early printings of SIKTC and DOT are to find. Make sure you order enough copies! If you’re a friend in the industry, hit me up and I’ll happily shoot over a PDF so you can take an early look.
But most of all… If you get a chance to read it early, please don’t spoil the ending for people!
So, today sees the release of WYND #6, which kicks off book two of WYND, and also sees the comic shop release of the WYND softcover, which will release wide to bookstores next week.
Retailers reading this, I know that this book doesn’t have a lot of crossover with my older teen/adult horror comics, so if you’re curious who you should be selling WYND to, I was aiming to hit a kind of YA Adventure series with a tone not far off from Avatar: The Last Airbender or Jeff Smith’s Bone. You might get some curiosity sales by shelving it with my other books, but this is very much aiming for that 12-16 year old audience. The book was nominated for the GLAAD Award for Outstanding Comic Book, and is getting some really nice advance buzz from the library world.
Wynd is set in a world where magic is dangerous, and can infect human beings and warp their bodies and linger in their blood. The Human Kingdom in our fantasy world has banned everyone with magic blood from its capital, Pipetown, for the protection of the rest of the human race. It stars a teenage boy with magic in his blood who goes to bed each night terrified he’s going to transform into a horrifying monster, unrecognizable to his friends and family. All he wants is to be normal, and to live out his life, and maybe get up the courage to ask out the palace gardener out on a date… But he’s not going to get that chance, because the King has called in his top agent, the dangerous BANDAGED MAN, to eradicate all “weird bloods” in the kingdom before he hands the throne over to his son, the prince. To find his way to safety and a better life, Wynd is going to have to throw his version of “normal” out the window and embrace the magical part of himself he’s been terrified of his entire life, to save himself and save his friends.
It’s exciting… As happy as Michael and I are with the loyal audience we’ve been building with the monthlies, this is the format WYND was written and designed for, and I am very very excited to see whether it can find its audience in the wider book market. Despite it having been out for a while, in a lot of ways, it’s like it’s coming out for the very first time this week.
So yeah, If you have any teens who love fantasy in your lives or in your shops, or really anyone who loves coming-of-age fantasy adventure stories with queer characters, you should put a copy of WYND vol. 1 in their hands, and get them to put Wynd on their pull-lists.
Also: Not to put too fine a point on it, but I miiiiiiiiiiiiiight have some meetings in the next few weeks that, if they go well, could make it worthwhile to get on this series on the ground floor.
RAZORBLADES: THE HORROR MAGAZINE
Okay, so we hit a few delays in the shipping process here, but all domestic orders for #3 are out the door. International orders are en route to our distribution partners in the UK and Canada, (definitely more and more understanding of people who do not offer international shipping – WOOF!). I’m sorry this one took so long to make its way to you, I could give you a million excuses (that second vax shot knocked me out for a week and the fact that I’m still catching up on my deadlines is a big part of why I’ve also fallen behind on these newsletters). But the fact of the matter is that I wanted these books in your hands much sooner than you got them.
I have a new plan for Issues #4 and 5. Issue 4 is more or less locked, and it kicks ass, but what I am going to do when we put the final polish on it is to get it running to the printer, and wait to open sales online until we’re just about ready to ship the books to all of you. That means rather than releasing #4 by the end of April, we are going release it (both digital and physical) at the end of May, when the books are already printed and en route to our distributor. If you are a retailer who has ordered from us before, expect an email from TinyOnionStudios@gmail.com soon, and if you’re a retailer who wants to get orders in on issues #4, you should hit us up in the next week or so.
But to give everyone a little taste of what we’ve got cooking this issue… We have an incredible cover by the one and only Becky Cloonan. And isn’t it just freaking gorgeous??
Since we’re pushing back #4, Issue #5 will move from July to August. After Issue #5 we’re going to pause the book for a bit. This will not be the end of Razorblades: The Horror Magazine. We’re already having exciting conversations about what we’re going to do with it next, but there probably won’t be another issue until 2022. There are also some fun plans I’ve been cooking with Ricardo Lopez Ortiz for Killboy when we’re done having fun with Ghost-Maker in Gotham City.
Also… Holy shit, I cannot wait for you to see this contributor we lined up to appear in the book before the end of this year. I keep showing it to my pals because I can’t believe it is actually real. Sometimes it’s better to shoot for a longshot and see what happens!
Finally: We’re planning on Premium Subscribers getting their Collector boxes and pins over the summer – Stay tuned! I am putting in the pin order this week!
BATMAN 108 came out yesterday, which is our big introduction of MIRACLE MOLLY. It’s an unusual issue of a Batman comic, but my goal here is to make you love this new character as much as Jorge Jimenez and I do by the time you put the issue down. With MM we wanted to create a character with a strong moral code that Batman respects but doesn’t necessarily agree with… Her story is one of the key defining threads of what we’re doing in the main Batman title this year.
Sales on 108 were insane. We broke 200K on this one, and there are a bunch of amazing covers spotlighting Miracle Molly out in the wild. Here’s some great pictures of Jorge Jimenez basking in their glow.
This month, you’re going to find out what a lot of the line has been building to since A-Day in Infinite Frontier #0… THE COWARDLY LOT is just the beginning, and the story is going to evolve into something bigger, as our story’s climax coincides with a bunch of the other Bat-Books. I can’t say much more than that, but I am verrrrrrry excited about [REDACTED ON PAIN OF DEATH]. But we’ve lined up a bunch of really really exciting stuff around what we’re doing this fall. Let’s just say we couldn’t pass up throwing a Halloween party with our good pal, Scarecrow.
The other week we had another writers meeting about all of the cool stuff coming up in Gotham City, making sure all of the books continue to connect and play off of each other. I love these meetings… First off, I can’t say enough about the incredible talent working on each and every single one of these books.
My single favorite thing about them? Well… for the last decade of working in Gotham City, there were so many times where people would ask about their favorite Bat-Family member and not be able to explain the weird internal politics that were acting as a barrier to seeing those characters get the spotlight they deserve… But right now? There’s a plan for ALL of them. Gotham City is a whole superhero universe in and of itself, and we’re all working together to build this exciting tapestry of superhero awesome that brings each of them forward and lets them shine. Your favorite characters are in good hands, and we’ve got some incredible stories cooking. I got an email earlier this week about something that won’t happen until next year, but when I heard it I stood up and cheered.
There’s some Tim Drake stuff coming that I am particularly thrilled about, and cannot wait for you all to read. Teenage Tim Drake fanboy James was cheering on his feet reading the outline for this upcoming story.
Anyways. I am always the most anxious the first week of the month. I love everyone who loves what we’re doing on Batman, and I even hope the ones who don’t are enjoying other books in the line right now. It’s a really exciting fun moment to be a part of, and I think we’re making a bunch of great comic books for Bat-Fans of the past, present, and future.
Hey! Joker came out! It’s secretly a Jim Gordon book about evil and wealth and society! It’s the book I am getting most deep dive DC continuity brain about (well aside from a couple one-shots coming out later this year). Guillem March is absolutely killing it on every single page. Two issues in, Folks seem to be digging it! Issue #3 is next week, and might have my favorite cover of the series yet…
The second issue released a few weeks ago, with a big status quo change in mainline continuity for the Gordon Family (but one, as pointed out, that’s been done a bunch before – I remember when I reached out to Tom Taylor to see if it’d mess with any of his Nightwing plans, and he sent me the panels of Gordon admitting he knew the secret from DCeased in support). It also introduced some of the new players… First off there’s the Sampson Family, and folks have picked up on one of the key strands of DNA influencing the character, but there’s another side to it… I’m interested to see if people pick it up.
But the biggest new character we’ll be dropping in this series, made her first appearance in Issue #2. She hasn’t been named in the book yet, but promo around the book has called her VENGEANCE, DAUGHTER OF BANE. She is a fucking bad-ass, and a character I am very very excited for you to see more of… I’m playing the long game with a lot of the Santa Prisca mythology I’m playing with here, and for people who think that the original Bane is out of the picture entirely, I’d point them back to the caption in Joker #1 where Jim Gordon said he didn’t believe he was dead.
The one thing folks don’t seem to have picked up yet is the connection between one of the characters in the book with a character from the first Bat-Book I ever worked on with Guillem…. So I’ll let that dangle a bit.
The Joker #5’s solicit revealed that I will be joined by Matt Rosenberg and Francesco Francavilla on the issue, which is set effectively right after the events of Batman: The Man Who Laughs in the Year One era. It tells the story of The Joker’s first night in Arkham Asylum. This will be the first of a batch of stories we’ll be dropping in between the main features with me and Guillem, that will show key Joker-related moments in Jim Gordon’s life and the history of Gotham City.
We also announced that following Mirka Andolfo’s incredible turn at the wheel of our Punchline back-up story, we’re going to be joined by the phenomenal Sweeney Boo for this next block of chapters here… I’m building something with Sam Johns here, and we are very excited for you to see the full picture. Just you wait and see!
THE DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH
Last week we launched our second full arc on The Department of Truth, with my partner in crime, Martin Simmonds back on art duties… This arc introduces a character named Hawk Harrison who is a terrible asshole, and is therefore very fun to write. While the first arc dealt with some of the more grounded side of conspiracy theory lore, this arc starts dealing head on with some of the absolute weirdest shit. Next issue is all about Magic, the next about Bigfoot and Cryptids… It’s all building towards a big reveal at the end of the arc that will change the course of the series.
I had a moment the other week where I was absolutely panicked writing an upcoming issue because it was just too long… like about ten pages too long, and to trim it down would mean cutting out too much of the beating heart of the thing. But then I remembered that it was an image book and I could make it two issues instead of one! So we’ve got more cryptids coming your way this issue!
The exciting thing with Department of Truth right now is we’re seeing sales go up, issue-by-issue. We were up almost 14K between Issues 8 & 9, so I just want to say how fucking grateful we are that folks are buying into this completely fucking insane series. Out of everything I’m doing, it feels like this would be one of the more polarizing books, but we’ve got a loyal fanbase who are excited to go down the rabbit hole with us.
Things continue to move forward on the development front for this series. Having lots of exciting conversations here.
SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN
I got wind of what SIKTC #16’s sales numbers were looking like one week ago, and they knocked me on my ass. And then I got the real numbers yesterday and they double knocked me on my ass. I know this is floating out in the wild, but I can confirm that we did in fact break 155K on this issue and I honestly don’t even know what to do with that information. Yesterday after they told me, I just laid down for a bit. I think spiritually I am still laying down a bit.
I’ll be back in a month to bang the drum more about what this arc is, and what it is pointing toward. I also might be cooking up some sneaky SIKTC merch to wrap up in that announcement. Excited to expand our operations on TinyOnionStudios.com.
I think that’s enough of me for all of youse this week. Call your LCS and order Nice House on the Lake #1. If you are a retailer, order more Nice House on the Lake #1. I am very, very, very excited for you all to read it.
Okay, More soon. I am really going to try to do more of these, but much shorter. Please comic gods, give me the strength.
I do this thing every year where I convince myself that I am going to be very, very productive over the holidays. I schedule out my workload with the assumption that my brain is going to kick into high gear after Christmas and I’m going to push ahead on all fronts, and then I’ll be sitting easy in January. And then, predictably, every January is a garbage fire. This year was no different. Well, okay, we had an insurrection, so that was pretty different, but the point is that I spent my January digging myself out of a series of holes. But now I have (almost) fully dug myself out of those holes, and I’m ready to start looking at what this year is actually going to be.
I got a great response to the series of insanely long newsletters I wrote leading up to the New Year. I was really happy to be able to to lay out a lot of what I’ve been thinking about the comics industry, but there was one piece that I didn’t get to in all those write-ups. Something I’ve been tinkering with since November, that I’m going to share with all of you. I call it a Generational Theory of Geekdom. If you get a kick out of me being all self-important and waxing philosophical about the comic book industry, you can scroll down past all my comic-specific stuff…
But, I know why you’re REALLY here…
RAZORBLADES: THE HORROR MAGAZINE
Razorblades: The Horror Magazine #3 is on sale now. Ain’t it a beautiful sight to behold?
The cover is by David Romero, who has been one of my favorite finds of the last year. We have a lot of astonishing talent in this book. Ram V and John J Pearson return to Razorblades this month with a new story. Alex Paknadel and Jason Loo have the next chapter of Cinderside. We have a story by INFIDEL’S Pornsak Pichetshote alongside Alberto Ponticelli. Another White Noise veteran joins the book with Dan Watters and Lucy Sullivan’s “Sweeney Todd & I.” We have Jenn St-Onge & Jess Unkel! Michael Conrad & Raymond Estrada! We’ve got letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou and Aditya Bidikar! Illustrations by John R. Green, lilcthulhu, Nick Tofani, Jerome Tiunayan, and Aaron Campbell… A tease of a new serial feature by Razorblades co-creator Steve Foxe, and Piotr Kowalski. We’ve got a piece of short horror fiction by Michael Moreci, and we’ve got an in-depth interview with Killadelphia’s Rodney Barnes, featuring art by Jason Shawn Alexander. Brian Level wraps the issue up with the conclusion of the run of illustrations/comic pieces that have been running since the first issue.
I have to single out one contributor to the book. Back when Razorblades was in its inception, one of my big goals was to bring in people from all corners of the comic book industry, and because of my recent stack of reading, the person I singled out was “I’d love to get Tillie Walden to do a piece for Razorblades." That was my unrealistic goal for the first year of the book. And well… This issue features an incredible black and white illustration by Tillie Walden.
I regret to say that this issue does NOT have a Killboy chapter in it. I robbed Ricardo Lopez Ortiz from myself to go draw Ghost-Maker back-up stories in Batman. But our scampy little Murderfriend will return. This issue starts with a short piece by me and my Department of Truth partner-in-crime, Martin Simmonds. It’s based on a real nightmare I had when I was 4 years old and about to move from Manhattan to Milwaukee, WI. The real version featured E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and was one in a series of nightmares I had from that age until I was around 10. It feels good finally putting it to paper and exposing the horror of that damned potato monster.
With the physical edition, we’re going back to the old model here that we used for Issue #1. There are 500 copies of the physical edition of #3 on sale now through me. There are more copies available for interested retailers. Our advance sales to retailers already outstrip our retailer sales for Issue #2, which is very exciting, and if you’re a shop that wants to get in on all things Razorblades, you should hit me up.
If you’re a retailer and you want to put in a discounted bulk order for Issue #3, you have until the end of the weekend to shoot me an email at TinyOnionStudios@gmail.com and lock your orders. On Monday morning, the print run for #3 will be locked, and we’re going to start the process of printing the books. They should ship out in March, and we’ll keep you updated if there are any delays.
Unfortunately, the model of keeping a sales window open to the public for a couple of weeks before locking the print run ended up just delaying shipping, and with a bunch of confusing stuff with cancelled sales. As much as I’d like to just keep the sales window open for anyone/everyone who wants a copy, this makes things much cleaner on our end. We’re still a very small operation, so I wanted to keep this as straightforward as possible. I figured 500 was a nice clean number, and I’ll be able to point interested people toward the retailers who are ordering lots of copies of #3.
If you miss out on the 500 sold via the webstore, let your local comic shop know you want a copy, and tell them to email me at TinyOnionStudios@gmail.com before the end of the weekend.
If you are a subscriber, you don’t need to do anything! You will receive either a regular subscription cover for #3, or the foil subscription cover of #3. Both subscriber covers feature the color variant with the orange title. Originally, foil was only meant to be a special thing for #2, but enough people were confused by that, that I figured, hey, what the heck – If they ordered a foil subscription, let’s give them a foil subscription. If you ordered the premium subscription, the book will come with a limited edition postcard print of one of the great horror illustrations in the issue. And don’t worry! Your limited edition enamel pin and collector’s box will come too! I’m looking to get those out over the summer. I’ve had some worried emails from folks who thought they missed them, but we wanted to prioritize getting the first subscription issues out into the world, and then getting #3 out there.
One last note to Razorbladers out in the world… If you’re in the US, you should have your copies of Razorblades 2 in hand now (if you don’t - please email TinyOnionStudios@gmail.com). If you’re international, you might still be waiting. We’re using a distributing partner in the UK as the gateway to shipping to Europe and Asia, and Brexit threw a wrench into our already delayed shipping situation. I have confirmation that the last of those packages are being shipped out before the end of this week. Things should be a little less hectic come these issues shipping out in March, without the holidays and political upheaval. So I hope you still consider picking up a copy of #3!
So, with the last round of Solicits, we got the very exciting news about a new ROBIN series by my pal Joshua Williamson, and the incredible Gleb Melnikov. And we got the first glimpse of the new character, Flatline, who will be debuting in the first issue of the book. I am very, very excited about Flatline. I have been losing my mind since Josh first messaged me her design. This is going to be a very good, exciting book. I love everything Josh is planning right now, and every piece of art I’ve seen has been absolutely stunning. But Flatline so perfectly captures the potential of the new era of DC comics, and I am so freaking excited to see the other big books invest in the creation of new, modern feeling characters. I mean, just look at her:
We need to be in the business of creating exciting superheroes and villains that fans want to draw in their notebooks, and dress up as, and daydream about… Characters like that flesh out a universe and keep them feeling young, and exciting. That’s what Jorge and I were trying to do with Punchline, Clownhunter, and Ghost-Maker last year. And I think Flatline hits that mark. I already told Josh that I want to make Punchline vs. Flatline happen in the near future.
But hey, the little header up there reads “Batmannery”, not “Robinnery,” and Jorge and I got the new character machine cooking pretty much exactly one year ago. And now we’re heading toward the Infinite Frontier, the launch of a whole new era of Gotham City… And did you really think for half a second we were going to rest on our laurels? No. We’re off to the races in our very first issue. We have a new character with a partial appearance in 106, who Jorge and I have been hinting at in interviews over the last few months… She is a member of a new gang in Gotham that calls itself the Unsanity Collective, and they are going to be huge players in 2020 and 2021. And she’s going to be right at the heart of all of it. I wrote up a whole thing for the internal Gotham team earlier this year, in which I broke down the emotional heart of “THE COWARDLY LOT”, and the whole story is pinned on two arguments about the nature of fear and memory… One argument comes from Scarecrow, and the other comes from HER:
Her name is Miracle Molly. She’s on the cover of Batman #108, which will be her first FULL appearance, and the issue that I think will make you all fall as madly in love with her as Jorge and I are. Jorge did the above as a color guide. This is just your first glimpse of her… There’s going to be a lot more to come. That Batman 108 cover is going to be coming your way with the next round of solicits, along with some craaazy variant covers featuring her.
The Unsanity Collective are a high tech gang of thieves who use technology to erase and reset their memories, so they can let go of all the fear and trauma holding themselves back. Miracle Molly builds all of their hardware. She’s unlike any of the other characters I’ve written in and around Gotham, and I fucking LOVE her. So I hope you love reading about her, too…
I’m so freaking excited about this year on Batman. While I’m showing off Jorge’s art, I have to spotlight the absolutely incredible design he’s put together for Scarecrow. I mean, just LOOK at him. I’ve been having an argument internally for years that we have to move away from the Batman Begins inspired “bag on a guy’s head” look for Scarecrow, and get back to something that looks like it would be hanging on a post in a field. I’ve been saying the hat is necessary in the design, and boy oh boy did Jorge deliver…
Scarecrow is the big bad of the story we’re telling in 2020. We’re also going to be establishing the origins of The Magistrate Program, and see the origin of Peacekeeper One in present day. Miracle Molly, Peacekeeper One, and one other mysterious character are my crown jewel new characters for 2021. Gotta Catch ‘Em All!
It all starts on March 2nd… With Infinite Frontier #0 (which features a few VERY VERY dramatic things that set up the whole year in Gotham City) and BATMAN #106…
And then we have Joker, by me and Guillem March later in the month. And I have a whole lot to say about that book, but I’m going to wait a little closer to launch to say it. But obviously, there’s a new character in the mix in Joker who I am also very, very excited for you to meet.
BUT JAMES, WHAT ABOUT ALL YOUR OTHER BOOKS?!
Look, these newsletters are already pretty dense, and I think it’s best to try to sell people what I have in hand to sell rather than what’s coming up soon, but IF YOU INSIST, let me give you a low-down on everything else I have cooking right now.
February is going to see the release of THE DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH VOL 1: THE END OF THE WORLD. It is also going to see the release of the first interstitial issue of DOT with art by the phenomenal Elsa Charretier and Matt Hollingsworth. This is a story with a thread that happens in 1963, and a thread that happens in 1000 AD. It continues the story of Lee Harvey Oswald after the assassination of JFK, and shows some of the origins of a very important organization in Conspiracy lore. The issue is fucking gorgeous.
The following month is an issue by Tyler Boss and Roman Titov, that continues Lee’s story and has the origin of “Doc” Hynes, our tinfoil wearing friend who haunts the deepest basements of the Department of Truth. That issue deals with The Men in Black. Like… The UFO kind of Men in Black. Both issues are beautiful and won’t be immediately collected into a trade paperback! We’re going to do two interstitial issues between arcs, and those will all build up into a story that spans the 1960s, and will be collected as one, down the line, when we build up enough of them… So the singles are the only ways to get this part of the story in the near future! Don’t miss them!! Martin will return in April with Department of Truth #8, the start of our second full arc. That issue is a doozy, and kicks the series into a very interesting direction…
I’ve been having a series of very exciting calls and emails about SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN that I can’t even hint about yet. I just sent off the last issue of whole Archer’s Peak story cycle to the printer, and that will be out I think later this month… There’s another universe where SIKTC #15 was going to be the end of the series. But you all have turned the book into a runaway hit, and now there’s no ending in sight. But 15 is still an ending. It’s the ending of the story of young James, and Tommy, and a lot of the people and places we’ve gotten to know in Archer’s Peak. I felt the weight of all those fifteen issues when I put this one down. I am just so damn proud of everything we’ve done. Erica Slaughter changed my life. This is the book that sent me down the road toward Batman and The Department of Truth, and Wynd and everything else… And the fact that people keep finding her story and connecting with her just bowls me over every single time. I’m going to be coy about what the book will look like starting with Issue #16 (Which I’m pretty sure will start in May).
WYND continues powering along, with Michael deep into the second arc, which, wouldn’t you know it, ALSO starts in May. I’m not going to start showing off interior work from that just yet, but honestly what I am MOST excited about are the collected editions that are going to start coming out next month. In March, we’re releasing a limited edition Hardcover only available to comic shops for a VERY short time… This is the equivalent of the Jenny Frison SIKTC Vol 1 cover. A treat to the comic book market, before the mass market edition of Wynd launches in May alongside all of the other fun stuff I have coming from BOOM! I was also very, very honored to be nominated for a GLAAD Media Award, continuing my streak on my projects with Michael. This book means a tremendous lot to me, and while I’ve been thrilled with all the people who have found it in comic shops, I’ve been waiting for it to make its way into bookstores to find the young queer readers that I wrote it for.
Finally… I think we might be coming up on the announcement of the secret project that I have been pretty cavalier about over the last six months. The book is beautiful, and I can’t fucking wait to show off the incredible cover to Issue #1 that has been the background of my phone for months. This is the Alvaro Martinez Bueno project, and I am incredibly excited and nervous for you all to read it.
So… More to come… But in the meantime, let me get back to being a blowhard, so I can wax poetic about my thoughts on the comic book industry!
BIG PICTURE THINKING
I have this pet theory I’ve been spending way too much time thinking about over the last few months. I spend a lot of time thinking about how systems decay and degrade over generations (which is an undercurrent in all of my creator-owned work), and I spend a lot of time thinking about the geek culture I work in. I started laying all of this down in a document in November, but I thought I’d revisit it and expand it, now.
Part of what I’m trying to unpack here is why do we create what we create? I think so much in the direct market comics industry happens by inertia. When you’re raised in a creative culture that has existed for your entire life, the cycle of nostalgia and self-referentialism can feel like they’re a necessary part of the system. I don’t think they are. I think a lot of us start writing in that language because it’s the language we see at play all around us, and we subconsciously replicate what the decision-makers are asking for. One thing I’ve been laying out in previous newsletters is how I want more of my creative peers to make fully conscious creative decisions, rather than make creative decisions out of inertia because the people in power are telling you that it’s always been that way. Because there is no such thing as “always.”
Also, like all theory, this is meant to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. It’s a tool to analyze and reflect on the past as we consider the future and our places in it. Also, this is all armchair theory. Just me sitting back thinking about stuff, and nodding when something feels right to me and my experiences. Like generational theories about age-cohorts, there are plenty of creators and works that don’t fall neatly into one era or another. Creators and managers who didn’t grow up as fans and were able to bypass the limitations of the generational cycle and do incredible work. It’s meant to be more “generally” true than it is meant to be specifically and dogmatically true.
But in any case, I wrote it up, because I am an insane person.
First Generation – The Original Stuff
This is the pulp. Some people take some raw creative energy by smashing together story tropes into new and interesting configurations for the novelty of it. Most of the people publishing or producing the content just see it as low budget schlock for kids. Some of the creators see the potential in it and do innovative, iconic work, but mostly these stories are made by blue collar workman creators looking for a paycheck and they don’t take it all that serious. And even the premier talents don’t have the time to give any of it much polish.
Second Generation – The Good Stuff
The people who came up alongside the first generation creators who saw untapped potential in the first generation material rise up into decision making positions at the same time the kids who grew up reading/watching the first generation content reach their prime creative years. The management and the creative are in sync, wanting to do something elevated with the original raw concepts, and willing to give it the money necessary to do it right, all without taking the source material too seriously. Because they are rooted in simple ideas, these elevated stories have the most Mass Market appeal.
Third Generation – The “Important” Stuff
The peers of the key second generation creatives rise into decision making positions, at the same time that a new generation of creatives who grew up on the “elevated” version of the content reach their prime creative years. These creators try to elevate the already elevated material for an audience that already deeply cares about the second generation content. Things get more niche. We get deconstructed takes on core concepts. Deep dives on strange corners of concepts that only work if you understand the second generation material its rooted in. We see more sophisticated, adult stories, based on a love of the second generation. This is the apex of geek culture. These stories have reached a self-referential level that make them a little inaccessible to casual fans, unless they’re willing to do their homework, but not so inaccessible that that homework feels daunting to your average geek.
Fourth Generation – The Regressive Stuff
The peers of the third-generation creatives (who grew up as kids loving the second generation geek stories) enter decision making positions as the new generation of creatives who grew up loving the “important” material of the third generation enter their prime creative years. At this point, all three previous generations of content are still on the shelves competing against the new material. The decision-makers either are die-hard lovers of what their peer group did in the third generation and are trying to replicate it (with diminishing returns), or they hated what their peer group did and want to return to the feel and the values of the second generation and want to return the properties they love to what they perceive to be their former glory. Many of the creators of this era, grew up loving that escalating feel of “importance” in the third generation, try to imbue the “return to classic” mentality as metatextually “important” to the characters in the same way it feels to them. Or they try to continue the techniques of the third generation, but less effectively as they are applied to the same characters over and over. Since the Second and Third gen stories are still available and still preferred, these stories only reach an even smaller niche audience.
Fifth Generation – The Convoluted Stuff
The peers of the fourth-generation creatives (who grew up as kids loving the already-niche third generation geek stories) enter decision making positions as a new generation of creatives who grew up reading the fourth generation reach their peak creative years. This new generation of creator is smaller and more reactionary given how small the niche audience of the fourth generation was. These managers and creatives are often setting out to “correct” the decisions made by the previous generation of managers and creators, based on their individual grievances with how the fourth generation picked up the torch from the third generation (or failed to). This leads to a cacophonous field of work, an echo-chamber of nostalgia and anti-nostalgia, where only the stories that embrace the lunacy and opportunities of that cacophony break through. These are the most niche stories, told to an even smaller audience than the fourth generation.
Okay… So that’s my theory. Let’s break it down a little.
A key thing to say is that I think this generational quality has more to do with genres, sets of tropes, and specific franchises than it has to do with an industry or medium at large. A raw original concept is polished into something more focused, and then that more focused thing keeps getting polished until it starts to degrade and break down.
Let’s talk George Lucas and Star Wars for a second. The First Generation of Star Wars are its predecessors - the old space adventure serials that Lucas grew up with. Think Buck Rogers. The original trilogy, especially the first Star Wars film and everything it established is the Second Generation – An elevated version of the pulp source material for a Mass Market Audience. The Expanded Universe, the Special Editions and the Prequel Trilogy were the Third Generation of Star Wars content – made for the more niche audience that already loved the Second Generation material. The Disney era, with the Sequel Trilogy and now the Mandalorian are the Fourth Generation of Star Wars content… And you can already hear the cacophony growing in the SW fandom that will grow up to create the Fifth Generation of SW content in another decade or so.
It’s worth noting that stories only typically enter their fourth and fifth generation forms when there is a corporate desire to keep a piece of content alive, rather than let it rest and become the raw fodder for second generation content. They are kind of the byproduct of living in a late-stage capitalism kind of world. The most common forms in the wild are first generation pulp and the second generation elevation of pulp. I think we can sometimes see a natural jump to a third generation property in the wild (Think how Spielberg Amblin films were second generation stories, which makes properties like Super 8 and Stranger Things that are deliberately built out of nostalgia for those works third generation stories), but usually this only happens in Geek Targeted media. Something like Galaxy Quest is a third generation story (First generation is early 20th century sci-fi, Second generation is Star Trek, Third generation is Galaxy Quest which is a love-letter to and parody of Star Trek made for people who love it). Outside of the traditional Geek Space, I think you can look at something like The Sopranos as a third generation work. First generation is early 20th Century crime fiction and film noir. Second Generation is The Godfather and Scorsese. Third generation starts to deconstruct the genre based on an assumed love and appreciation of the second generation, like The Sopranos does.
Right now, I think the Superhero genre in comic books is in its fifth generation, while Superhero live action film/television is in its third generation, with the advent of HBO’s Watchmen, Amazon’s The Boys, and to a lesser extent, Disney+’s WandaVision.
Does this mean you can’t tell a new good superhero comic book story anymore? No, of course not. There are great Superhero comics coming out right now. But I think the books that best reflect this era within our corner of the comic industry are the ones that embrace the cacophony. Look at the entire X-Line right now. There’s no more of an attempt to do “back to basics” – It’s trying to move the whole franchise forward without shying away from the sheer breadth of the insanity of their sixty year publishing history. Which is similar to what I’m trying to do with Batman. I am not trying to recapture an old status quo. I’m not being overly nostalgic. I want to embrace the fact that we’re further down the timeline in Gotham than we ever have been before, while creating new entry point characters for new readers to jump in on the whole experience with. I want to embrace the insanity of living in a superhero universe, with a nightmare city full of colorful street ninjas fighting cyborgs and murder clowns.
I think there’s a benefit and joy to leaning into the cacophony, especially knowing that with Marvel Unlimited and DC Infinite, suddenly young people are reading pretty much the entire history of both companies at once, non-linearly. Comic shops are seeing an influx of interest in back-issues. People are picking their favorite books over decades of work, and their priorities aren’t shaped by the immediate past, and it’s impossible to then tell those new eclectic readers that only this or that matters. So embrace everything! Go Gonzo! Don’t be afraid of embracing the abject insanity of what we’ve created. Tell stories about angels and cyborgs fighting dog-people from the future in the same world where a psychic fish is the president. Why not? It’s comic
But do I think that Superhero Comics are going to stay the apex predator of our side of the comic book industry they were from the 60s to the 90s through the peak of the Direct Market? No. I think that age has been over for a while now. There’s an existing audience to be catered to, and a smaller audience that will walk into the cacophony of the modern era for the first time and love it for what it is, but I don’t think continuity-driven corporate Superhero comics are the entry point of the medium anymore and I doubt they will be again in the near future. Furthermore, I think trying to replicate the moves of previous generation will only appeal to the fans of those previous generations. I think there’s room to do that kind of work, but an over-reliance on nostalgia and “returning to core” are out the window when it comes to appealing to new readers. There is a lie inherent in all of those attempts, which is that only some interpretations of the characters are valid, and that you should ignore y, and focus on x and z. People think that “simplifies” the comics, but it overcomplicates them and creates questions, and overestimates how much new readers care about what you’re telling them to be nostalgic about. Embrace the whole insane cacophony that exists in these worlds where multiverse-ending threats happen every week, and every third person is wearing a costume, and you can tell cool, weird stories. Companies need to stop shying away from what makes these universes fucking insane and complicated, because they’re only going to make them less authentic and more complicated in explaining why they are less complicated.
The other option is to go to creators who are outside that generational cycle of influence (someone who did not grow up reading superhero comics), ask them to distill a character to its raw parts, and start it from scratch. If you get an artist who has an amazing visual style and great writing voice from outside the churn of the monthly superhero floppy business and ask them to put together a Batman comic without any nostalgic restrictions on what that character is, I bet you’d get something pretty interesting. But a move like that is more about breaking free from the generational framework I laid out above to start something new to build upon. Typically, though, companies put too many brakes on outside the box creators… They have too many ideas about what a character NEEDS to be. Those decisions are rooted in nostalgia and in corporate branding anxieties, and rob us of actually seeing the full spectrum of what those stories could be. When Superman finally does become Public Domain in the 2030s, I think we will finally see that character break free of the mold that he’s been held in longer than he should have been, and he’ll enter the canon of figures like Sherlock Holmes and Dracula where he belongs.
But in lieu of that, is the Superhero genre dead? Also no. Look at My Hero Academia… I’d argue that it is a second generation work. That Manga treats all of American Superhero Comics and its tropes as its raw “First Generation” influence. It’s not in conversation with the latter-day generations, but it picks what it wants… If you look at something like Robert Kirkman’s Invincible… That was a third generation Superhero comic that was coming out alongside the Big Two putting out fourth generation superhero comics. Stripping things down to their base parts and building something wholly NEW usually creates second or third generation stories. I think he’s doing the same thing with Fire Power, which is rooted in the Kung Fu hero comics of the 1970s, to similarly great effect right now. I also look at something like Kyle Higgins and Marcelo Costa’s Radiant Black, which pulls the same hat trick that Kyle pulled when he led the whole Power Rangers revival at Boom! Studios. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was that raw, first generation “pulp” for my peer group in the early 1990s (It might have roots in Super Sentai, but the way it was translated and smashed together for American Audiences created something new that wasn’t QUITE superheroes, and also wasn’t quite Super Sentai – So I’d argue Power Rangers is a first generation pulp product made for kids out of smashed together pieces). So now we have second generation content, that translates and elevates that raw source material for a new generation of reader. And from what I’ve seen, Radiant Black is already a sales hit, and I think if Kyle and Marcelo play their cards right it could be something special.
So, where’s the sweet spot in geekdom? Where are there opportunities to do cool shit that has a chance of connecting with a larger audience, rather than a shrinking niche audience? I think we can strip-mine what’s worked in the past for parts and build exciting new things with all of them. I think the folks who are going to find the most success in the direct market in the near future are going to be the ones who take the engines underlying all superhero fiction - Action/Adventure Stories, Soap Opera, Cool Looking Characters, Genre Mash-up elements that give those cool looking characters extraordinary powers or skills – and strip away the superhero tropes. I’ve said a few times that I think Something is Killing the Children is something like a superhero book, but because it’s not nostalgic and it doesn’t speak in the language of superhero tropes, if anything I lean away from those tropes where I can… I could see an argument that it’s trying to be something like a second generation answer to the female hero centric creator-owned horror comics of the late 90s, early 00s. Think Hack/Slash and Witchblade. But either way – I see it as a second generation mash-up of the comics that most directly influenced me when I first became a teenager and started reading comics regularly.
I honestly look a lot at that era of comics… The Webcomics Era. The Manga Boom and Bust. Not to mention all of the bizarre storytelling priorities of the video games of that era. There are a LOT of raw influences to pull together and create exciting second generation work out of. I think especially with the mash-up of influences from the turn of the millennium, the rising generation of creators aren’t as limited as the previous generation to keeping themselves locked into a late-stage cycle for diminishing returns. The fast-growing American multi-genre comic book market is hungry for new content, and that means that there are opportunities to shine outside of the Superhero grind. It ALSO means that Superheroes can lean in and do more niche work that the smaller niche superhero comic book audience wants. One genre does not have to hold the weight of the industry on its back, and it shouldn’t! It’s the sign of an unhealthy medium when only one genre is selling, and doubling down in that kind of thinking is what led to American comics losing an entire generation of readers to manga and video games.
I think there’s a real opportunity right now to create a bunch of second generation content that will drive the next few decades of the medium, alongside a bunch of really exciting fifth generation superhero comics that play to the tastes of the hardcore nerds of the modern day. I think rising creators should think to the sort of material that inspired them and made them love the comics medium, and try to think about how to smash those influences together like raw atoms looking to create an explosive idea. I think the rising generation of creators are caged by corporate interests, even in the creator owned space. The IP-farm model for small-publishers looking to exploit IP in other media often means re-treading familiar ground, because media companies tend to bite at familiar shapes. Sometimes you get forward looking managers, who do get excited about new concepts, but the process is more difficult. That leaves some opportunity outside the IP-farms, if you have a truly innovative idea, and you can pull together enough money to cover the start-up costs of a book (which is no small feat).
Ultimately, I want to see the innovative creators of the rising generation reap the financial rewards of being on the front line of something new, so they can fund the creation of more new, exciting stuff.
IDK. This is what I sit up late at night and think about. The potential of what the comic industry can and should be, if we put more power in the hands of the rising generation of creator, and stopped acting out of a sense of “always” and the inertia of how things are “supposed” to be.
I want to do what I can to make that industry exist. In any case, I’m going to keep thinking about it.
I have a new website! TinyOnionStudios.com! That’s where you can go to download pay-what-you-want issues of Razorblades: The Horror Magazine, buy enamel pins, and read about how cool I am. This has been in the works for a while now, I kept getting distracted or this bad boy would have been up in November… We’re going to have an updated ReadRazorblades.com website for you very soon, built by the same team, with bios and a bit more about what our deal is. But hooray! The Empire of the Tiny Onion expands!
As of right now, I am removing all of the enamel pins from the Gumroad store, and I’ll be transitioning away from Gumroad entirely very soon. I’m going to leave the Razorblades Digital editions up for the time being, as a backup to the Shopify system. But if you DID put in an Enamel Pin order before the store closed.
One quick note – If you’re in the UK and you’ve ordered an Enamel Pin from me, or will be ordering one shortly, you’re going to have to wait for me to get a VAT number in order to ship it out. So please bear with me! We have a workaround on this front for Razorblades but when it’s just me, shipping pins from my office and apartment, I have to do it all myself! Thanks for your patience and understanding.
That’s it from me. I have to go get ready for a very important phone call that I can’t even hint about yet. Bwahahahahaha!
Okay, so… I have one more screed to leave you with before the end of the year. There’s one big lesson I’ve learned in this weird, weird year, that I hope I can take to heart and carry with me every year going forward.
The most important thing I can do in my creative life is indulge my curiosity.
And I don’t use the word indulge lightly here. The best moments of my year have been when I let myself go down a rabbit hole. It’s the big picture version of back when I would go down Wikipedia holes back in the pre-Social Media days on the internet. And there’s a lot of rabbit holes I went down this year, but let me lay out the most consequential one I found.
It started with reading From Hell. And then reading about From Hell online, and then deciding to buy a full set of the anthology series that spawned From Hell on eBay. So, then I had a full set of Taboo in front of me, and I loved reading Steve Bissette’s commentary in every issue so much, that I went out and bought a few issues of The Comics Journal (once again on eBay) that featured long-form interviews with Steve Bissette. While I was waiting for those to arrive, I listened to the four hour Cartoonist Kayfabe interview with him, and picked up some of the other horror anthologies he was a part of, and I picked up a whole set of his unfinished dinosaur comic, Tyrant. The Comics Journal issues pushed me toward the whole storied history of Tundra, and I picked up a few of the books that were published under that label which sent me down a whole separate Al Columbia binge. I started filling a shortbox in my office with old comics that I was reading for the first time, most of which have never been collected in trades, and I never really had access to in my comic reading life since I didn’t have regular access to comic shops until I got a car in my Junior year of High School, around 2004-2005.
That’s the curiosity spiral that led me down the road that would create RAZORBLADES: THE HORROR MAGAZINE… And it didn’t stop there. I started picking up other independent horror anthologies from the pre-Image creator owned era, and that led me down a path that ended up with me picking up a whole buttload of the Epic Illustrated Hellraiser anthologies, and the Eclipse published adaptations of the Books of Blood short stories. While simultaneously my kick of reading The Comics Journal issues finally unleashed me on my partner, Sam’s bookshelf and all of the classics from Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly and a number of indy alternative press books that I had only read before in scattershot doses.
And it branched out further from there. Thinking about From Hell got my brain geared up thinking about what it would be like to try and build a comic out of a non-fiction, or pseudo-nonfiction event, and I had been listening to the full library of LAST PODCAST ON THE LEFT episodes to refresh myself on a lot of esoteric knowledge as a part of the development of The Department of Truth, and I started imagining what it would be like to try and do a direct adaptation of the experiences of Betty and Barney Hill… So I went online and ordered an old used copy of “THE INTERUPTED JOURNEY” – the original non-fiction accounting of those events. From there I started seeing all of the early UFO non-fiction books mentioned in the footnotes in and around that title, and I ordered a handful of those books as well. I ended up plugging a lot of that research into The Department of Truth, and you’ll see that pay off a bit in Issue #7, but there’s a shelf growing in my apartment and I do think there’s some kind of UFO project that will take shape in the coming years… When I have time to do all the research.
The important caveat is a lot of the above happened in April-June of this year, when I was ahead of my deadlines, but the future at DC was still unclear, I didn’t know for sure when DOT was dropping, and all conventions were cancelled. I had work that needed doing, but not as much of it as usual and I was trapped in my Brooklyn apartment trying not to go insane. I’ve kept going down rabbit holes as my work schedule picked back up again, and I had less time to just absorb media. In a lot of ways, I am still riding the high of that indulgence early in the year… I’ve had other, shorter bursts of indulgence later in the year… I started rereading a lot of classic Jim Lee Marvel Comics (I got that X-Men XXL book and I was studying that think like a bible early in the year – I remember a night where Tradd Moore came over for drinks on our rooftop in the early fall and we kept flipping through the book looking at the incredible, iconic full body shots of all of these amazing X-Characters and I started talking to him about how I wanted to approach Batman next year with a similar visual language), that led to me doing a big revisit of my favorite Barry Windsor Smith X-Men and Wolverine comics…
And I’ve been on a big Frank Miller kick for months now. I’ve read his Daredevil, Batman: Year One, and DKR more times than I can count, but it’s been revisiting books like Ronin, the Martha Washington books, Sin City, and Hard Boiled that have been getting my gears turning… All supplemented with some of the Frank Miller Comics Journal interviews from when he was working on all of this stuff.
I’ve reread Elektra: Assassin about three times now in the last month because there’s something beating at the heart of that book that taps into what I’m trying to say in Department of Truth, AND in my upcoming Joker book, and it is a gift that keeps on giving.
Reading so many great comics this year deepened my love of this industry in immense and powerful ways. I feel more in love with comics than I have in years, in a way that I frankly needed. The corporate side of the industry had been burning me out for a long time, and wearing me down, and I needed to inject some pure comics directly into my heart and my brain and get me thinking again, and filling my head with new ideas for new stories. And now my mind is teeming with ideas, for my current projects, and for new ones down the pike.
It’s so easy to think of this stuff as a waste of time. There’s so much work that needs doing in comics, particularly when you’re as prolific as I am. There’s even more when you’re doing an Image book and even more than that when you’re trying to self-publish a quarterly horror anthology. And that’s without all of the human stuff you have to prioritize even living in quarantine. But you need the inspiring creative inputs to get inspired creative outputs. And even more than that, I think the most important thing all of this has done is keep me humble.
I can’t pretend that I’m not having a very, very good year professionally. My work is connecting with readers, and my audience is growing, but I still look at the luminaries of our field and I see how much work I have left to do to try and make comics that measure up to them. I don’t mean that in a self-depreciating way, but in a way that feels inspiring to me. There’s a lot about this craft and the underlying math that I think I understand now and that means I can engage with the stuff that’s much, much better than anything I have done with clearer eyes and see what they are made of. And then I can challenge myself to try and improve based on what I see. I don’t want to live in an echo-chamber of my own making in my own small corner of the medium. I want to challenge myself to make better and better comic books, while reading more and more good comic books.
But it’s all about leaning into your curiosities. Fall in love with doing research for your projects. Fill your brain with a million interesting things. People ask writers all the time where do ideas come from, and you find them at the bottom of these kinds of rabbit holes, and you almost never find them at the bottom of the one you expected.
Now, onto some specifics…
20 THINGS THAT INSPIRED ME IN 2020
Some of these things debuted in 2020, but most of them did not… This isn’t really about making a best of the year list, but rather just recording the sorts of things that stoked the embers of my love of the comic book medium and fueled me creatively over the course of the year. It is, of course, more than 20 things, because I can’t stop myself.
But if you were looking to unpack why I’m thinking in certain directions, and what I’m trying to draw from in the work that I’m trying to do… Then this might answer some of those questions for you.
1. FROM HELL by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
I’ve been talking about the impact of reading this comic in this newsletter for months now. I deliberately held off on reading From Hell for years so I would still have a great Alan Moore comic to read on a rainy day, and when the world started raining Covid-19, it was time to break the emergency glass and pull it out. It is, quite simply, one of the greatest works of the comics medium. My year would be tangibly different if I hadn’t sat down and read this book.
2. SABRINA by Nick Drnaso
I really can’t oversell this book. It is harrowing and horrifying and personal and unlike anything else I’ve read this year. There are bits of this that helped inspire moments in SIKTC and DOT3, reflecting the calm, steady bleakness that feels authentically like the dull ache of the real world. This is the book that reminded me that the cutting edge of the comic book medium is happening in every corner of the field. The fact that Drnaso is still in his 20s and he created such a sophisticated work is thrilling thing. I can’t wait to read his next projects.
3. HICKSVILLE by Dylan Horrocks
One of these days, I’m going to write up all my feelings about Wizard Magazine and all the things it ingrained in the industry right as I was first falling in love with comics, and the after image of what it ingrained all these years later. But honestly, maybe I’d be better served trying to get more of you to read Hicksville. When I was going down my rabbit hole in early summer, this came at the recommendation of one of my favorite editors, Chris Conroy, and I’ve revisited it a couple times since then. It really captures my feelings about a maximalist, all-inclusive love of the comic book medium and its potential, and the ways we fail ourselves when we close off from all its myriad wonders.
4. UPGRADE SOUL by Ezra Claytan Daniels
Probably the most unsettling horror comic I read this year. Upgrade Soul exists at that precise middle ground between the Indy-Alternative market and its storytelling priorities and pacing, and that of the direct market. It was one of my first stops in that artful and strange middle ground that I’ve spent my year obsessed with. I don’t want to spoil the contents of this book, but there are threads of science fiction and body horror pulled off with such deliberation that every moment in the book hits hard. I’ve filled my head with a LOT of horror comics this year, and there is still so damn much.
5. ON A SUNBEAM AND THE WORK OF TILLIE WALDEN
We spent the first four weeks of quarantine away from my book collection, dealing with a non-Covid related family issue, and I spent the first three of those weeks neglecting the pile of comics I had brought along with me… But the one that really kicked me off in the ravenous reading spree that lasted into the summer was ON A SUNBEAM. I’d been aware of Tillie’s work before, and had been on a panel or two with her in the past, but sitting down with ON A SUNBEAM just blew me away. I love stories about teenagers, but too often when I sit down with YA fiction it feels like the rough edges have been sanded away… On a Sunbeam is all rough edges. It’s all longing, and I can’t imagine a more teenage feeling than longing. It’s just such a sophisticated piece. When we got home, I ordered literally everything else she has ever written and drawn, and I devoured all of it as it showed up in my house.
6. THE WORK OF ADRIAN TOMINE
There are a lot of things I could call out from reading through my partner Sam’s shelf at home. Jesse Jacobs’ work in particular really spoke to me once I was able to really tune into what it was trying to do… But maybe the most rewarding thing I did was read through the entire Adrian Tomine catalog of books. I’d read bits and pieces of it before, but it was reading it through more or less consecutively and seeing how his style and form and story priorities developed that I really connected. I really enjoyed his latest, THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE CARTOONIST, but honestly it’s the work from the middle of his career, just telling self-contained human stories, that spoke out to me the most. Understated and masterful. Just proving the power of the medium even with all the more typical genre trappings stripped away.
7. THE WORK OF FRANK MILLER
Now, obviously I’ve read and appreciated a lot of Frank Miller comics before, but I think this was the first year I engaged with his catalog of work in and of itself rather than look at it as it sits in the canon of Daredevil and Batman. I started down that path with Ronin, a book I’ve had on my shelf for years but had never given a series go before. I think Frank Miller is probably the greatest living comic creator, particularly in regards to our corner of the comic book industry. The work he was doing in the 80s and 90s was always interesting, and always deeply considered, and always masterful. Reading more about why he was making the moves he did, particularly in building out Sin City, helped open my mind to what he was looking to accomplish in the comics field. I finally sat down and read the Martha Washington books for the first time, and Ronin… And most crucially, I finally sat down with Elektra: Assassin by Frank and Bill Sienkiewicz and was able to fully engage with it in a way I wasn’t ready for when I first tried in my early 20s. I felt like I was learning secrets of the medium with every book of his I read this year. And with all of that in mind I want to revisit the Frank Miller books I’ve read hundreds of times before with the same eye, and I see what I can learn from them.
8. LITERALLY EVERYTHING ED BRUBAKER HAS BEEN UP TO THIS YEAR
If you pointed a gun to my head and told me that I can only ever read new comic books from one creator for the rest of my life, I would pick Ed Brubaker’s work. His work with Sean Phillips this year has been transcendently good. From wrapping up the most recent run on Criminal, to Pulp, to Reckless, each collaboration between these giants has been awe-inspiring. Reckless in particular has been sitting with me, and I plan on reading it again when I get back home next week. The big surprise to me was the release of Friday with Marcos Martin on Panel Syndicate, a story that taps into the “boy detective” genre I’ve always loved. I am very excited to keep reading everything Ed and his incredible collaborators have on the docket in 2021 and beyond. More than anyone in his peer group of creator, I feel like Ed is still reaching new heights and refining his craft in the way I hope to be when I’m a few decades into my comic book writing career.
9. WITCH HAT ATELIER by Kamome Shirahama
When I started my huge reading spree early in the summer I felt certain that I was going to shift into a major Manga binge when I wrapped up my binge through the Indy Alternative comics, but unfortunately that never came. I got too buried in work again, and even failed to finish reading through the absolutely phenomenal Inio Asano’s GOODNIGHT PUNPUN, and Nagabe’s THE GIRL FROM THE OTHER SIDE (both of which I loved – I just need to sit down and finish). So, I am heading into 2021 with a deep and powerful need to just spend a month reading piles and piles of manga and letting all of it seep into my brain. I already have the piles and piles of Manga waiting for me, and that’s not even counting all the manga I’m due for a reread (I want to revisit MONSTER in particular, as I continue working on Joker). But I had a special moment early in the summer where I was reading a lot of really harrowing, emotionally dark work. I was reading Sabrina and Goodnight Punpun and all of this horror back-to-back, and I needed to inject myself with something else… And I finally picked up the first volume of Witch Hat Atelier, and it was everything I needed. First off, I can’t overstate how beautiful it is… and also how NICE. It is a good-hearted book. It helped refresh my spirit in a way that I needed. I still need to read more volumes to get up to date, but I am eager to do it in the new year.
10. KILL A MAN & BARBALIEN
Sometimes I sit back and remember what a desert the comics market used to be for queer content. I’ve always loved comics, but particularly as I came of age in the mid 2000s, there were not a lot of gay characters, and there was even less gay content. Now, there’s finally a real onslaught of queer content out in the market, but it’s still mostly in the YA Book Market space. There are so many queer books that I love, but there aren’t enough queer books that do the sort of things that I look for comics to do, in all its myriad genres. Two books hit the mark for me on that note more than any other this year, and they each deserve their own space on this list, but I’m rolling them up into one thing here because I’m insane and am trying to fit like one hundred things into a list of twenty things because I think I’m trying to kill myself with these newsletters. KILL A MAN is by Steve Orlando, Phillip Kennedy Johnson with Alec Morgan. For a long time I thought of it as Steve’s “Gay Rocky” comic, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s violent and human, and tells a layered, human type of queer story that I’ve seen much more of in the real world than I have in fiction. I’ve been friends with Steve and PKJ for years, but this is my favorite work from the both of them. It’s just powerfully human and emotional and just outright powerful. BARBALIEN: RED PLANET is by Jeff Lemire, Tate Brombal and Gabriel Hernandez Walta is a latecomer in the year, and full-disclosure, I managed to get my hands on the full miniseries so I’ve gotten to digest it in one huge piece. It’s such an impressive book, and layers in queer history into the kind of superhero story I wish we got a lot more of. This was the first work I read by Tate, and probably one of the most impressive debuts I’ve seen for a writer in the last five years. I can’t wait to read what he puts out in the world next.
11. MR. BOOP by Alec Robbins
I think Mr. Boop is the defining comic book of 2020. Its unrelenting strangeness, mundanity, and perversion shifting into outright horror feel more 2020 than anything else I’ve read all year. It’s subversive and fucked up and it’s also been a strange comfort during our year in quarantine. It has kept going long beyond you’d think what should have been a one-note joke could go, and it’s kept twisting and evolving into new shapes. I hope it wins all the Eisners next year, and no I am not joking.
12. WHITE NOISE
At this point I hope you all know that one of the secrets to finding the newest and best comics coming out of the direct market is to add everything that the White Noise team is doing to your pull-lists. These four writers out of the UK: Ram V, Alex Paknadel, Dan Watters, and Ryan O’Sullivan are consistently putting out some of the most forward looking work in our corner of the comic business. I’ve been bullish on White Noise for a while now, which is why I hand-picked Ram V to step in and take the reins of Justice League Dark when I had to drop the book. It’s also why all of these writers have stories either already in Razorblades, or coming up in Razorblades. It’s been a banner year for White Noise, with Ram V and Anand RK knocking all of our collective socks off with Blue in Green. Dan Watters and Caspar Wijngaard launched the absolutely gorgeous Home Sick Pilots. Alex Paknadel put out two home runs this year with GIGA with John Le, and Redfork with Nil Vandrell. Ryan O’Sullivan and Andrea Mutti returned to the world of Fearscape with A Dark Interlude… I also have to credit these guys for bringing the incredible letterer Aditya Bidikar into my life, without whom The Department of Truth or Wynd wouldn’t have nearly as much character. I love the spirit of their work, and their collective creativity, and I could keep listing all their great comics, but all I’ll say is you really have to go out there and hunt them down.
13. ALL THE COMICS I BOUGHT ON EBAY
This is less about the specifics, a lot of which I got into above, and honestly more about the habit I’ve gotten back into this year which is collecting comics. There’s something magical about hunting down books that are difficult to find in the modern day, it’s like a kind of cultural anthropology, trying to piece together moments in the comics market and try and see the big picture. I’ll roll the Comics Journal into this as well. By the time I started reading comics, TCJ had stopped covering a lot of direct market comics, but going back to the pre-Wizard, pre-Image days, it’s thrilling to see a platform that covered comics as a whole, looking at every strange corner. Reading the in-depth interviews there are powerfully inspiring. My latest eBay purchases? A full run of Evan Dorkin’s DORK and a full run of Greg Capullos’ THE CREECH. I can’t wait to curl up with both when I get back to Brooklyn.
14. COMIC BOOK ARTISTS AND ILLUSTRATORS ON TWITTER AND INSTAGRAM
One of the best things I’ve done all year is massively retool the kind of people I’m following on Social Media, in service of Razorblades: The Horror Magazine. As I realized what I wanted Razorblades to be and the sort of illustrators I wanted to bring in to showcase, I started following dozens and dozens of artists in various different styles, and since then, I’ve been following my favorite artists that those artists are retweeting. The amount of illustration and comic book talent out there online is staggering, and the diversity of style and content is absolutely inspiring. Within the horror illustration community alone, I’ve been blown away. Folks like Trevor Henderson and David Romero and the work they trumpet on their twitter pages has opened my eyes to a whole world of art that was invisible to me before. I’ve been trying to get my favorites to contribute to Razorblades, and others I’ve been pocketing for consideration for covers down the line… But honestly the most inspiring thing has been seeing how the art community has taken the power in their own hands in the middle of Covid. One of my favorite things to do on a Friday Night this year has been watching Soo Lee’s twitch stream with a bunch of the creators repped by Modern Mythology and their pals, including Ricardo Lopez Ortiz, Tyler Boss, Josh Hixson, Adam Gorham, Sweeney Boo, Tom Reilly and more and see them joke around and draw together. There is a communal part of art that I find unbelievably inspiring, and this year has made me tremendously excited to see what all of these talented people do next.
15. HALT AND CATCH FIRE
Similar to Manga, I really expected this to be the year that I sat down and binged through a bunch of television that I had been meaning to watch for ages, but for whatever reason that never really happened. There have been shows that I really enjoyed this year, and one new show I deeply loved, but the only one that got me so worked up that I was sneaking episodes in the middle of my work days and staying up late at night to binge was HALT AND CATCH FIRE, which is how I spent my first weeks of the covid life, back when we were cancelling conventions but hadn’t really changed that much of our day-to-day living. There is so much style and energy and character in this show, and I fell in love with all of it. One of the show’s co-creators, Christopher Cantwell has spent the last year diving into the comics world full force and the industry is richer for his contributions, but the power of Halt and Catch Fire and the deft way it approached the PC revolution was one of my favorite media experiences of the year.
16. TED LASSO
There’s a decency at the heart of Ted Lasso that broke me down and had me sobbing when I watched through it for the first time. This year has been so unrelentingly dark and depressing, and there have been moments that I have been embarrassed to be an American in the larger scope of the world… But Ted Lasso’s celebration of a kind of contemporary American decency, and its portrayal of masculinity and power dynamics, and the importance of collaboration were just staggeringly powerful in their simplicity. It’s a toxic world out there, and it can break people, and we all need a little more Ted Lasso in our lives, even if it’s just a fantasy. This was one of my favorite treats of the year.
17. THE ELEMENTALS, BY MICHAEL MCDOWELL
I think it’s a byproduct of how many comics I read, but I have been going through a real dry run when it comes to prose fiction for the last few years. Really since around 2016. I read or listen to a lot of non-fiction books and audiobooks about all sorts of subjects, but I keep losing my focus on prose fiction and finding myself back with a book of non-fiction or a book with pictures in it in my hands. But every year there’s an exception that holds my attention entirely and presents me with a world and characters that I get lost in. I’ve been recommended The Elementals for years and years now by dozens of friends, but it was going on summer walks in NYC trying to get out of the stuffy apartment with nowhere to go that I started my journey to Beldame. The book is stunning, and isn’t celebrated nearly enough. I want to keep going on a journey through McDowell’s library, when my brain finally switches gears and starts letting the prose fiction back in, but for now I’ll savor this particular Southern Gothic flavor.
I’ve been a fan of Defunctland for ages, but seeing it grow more sophisticated in its third season this year has been an absolute treat. It’s youtube series structured like a lot of non-fiction podcasts, about the history of now defunct rides in popular theme parks. Or at least that’s where it started. The third season was a complicated and sophisticated history of American Theme Parks and the life and influences of Walt Disney ending with the most comprehensive take on his true dreams for EPCOT that I’ve ever seen.
Yes. The Rob Liefeld podcast. I’ve been evangelizing this podcast to my friends since that amazing run of shows about the Heroes Reborn era earlier in the year. There is nobody like Rob Liefeld in the history of the comics medium, and he’s basically writing his memoirs into a microphone, with all of his trademark energy and an amazing Todd McFarlane impersonation. I wrote a bit in one of my early newsletters that the history of the comics medium tends to end in 1990, and it’s heartening to see one of the giants of the 90s put his own history down on the record for everyone. I don’t agree with everything Rob says, or all of his priorities, but he is one of the best showmen in comics, in the tradition of Stan Lee himself, and the energy of each of these podcasts is contagious. This has been a year where my number one priority has been selling comics, and sometimes it’s powerful to hear someone who has such a powerfully commercial sensibility and yet is absolutely uncompromising in who and what he is. Sharing the slot here is also the Cartoonist Kayfabe Youtube series and podcast which has been running for a while now, and seeing Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor talk about 1980s Manga and 1990s superhero comics all the while doing some of the best interviews in the business has been incredibly enlightening. These podcasts are scratching the same itch in the present day that the old Comics Journal issues have been scratching for the historian in me and have been instrumental in my appreciation of the comics I’ve been reading.
20. THE MUSIC I SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN INTO IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
Look, I was never a cool kid. I never listened to the cool kids music. I listened to Broadway Musicals and movie soundtracks in middle school and high school, and occasionally whatever my friends asked me to listen to when I drove them around. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve started plugging into the music that I wish I had opened my mind to when I was a kid. I went on a whole Nine Inch Nails kick back when the quarantine started, and I can’t really overstate how many times I listened through The Downward Spiral. It is a stupid number of times, really. But it captured a kind of caged energy and darkness I was feeling at the start of quarantine and I needed an outlet for. From there I burned through all of the NIN catalog for the first time in context, album to album. And then I went on from there, going down a shorter series of rabbit holes than my comics discovery, but finding more music I liked to help me process what I was feeling day to day. I finally had my My Chemical Romance kick sometime in July, too, which was admittedly less revelatory to me than the NIN deep dive, but still valuable. Music is neat! I want to consciously take more of it in, rather than use it as a background for other creative work which is really the utility it’s served for me over my career.
Hahaha, wow. Okay, I think I need to make my first real New Years Resolution. I need to write shorter newsletters. I honestly started out just intending to write up five things, and then ultimately decided 20 fit the year better.
Oh, well… Let’s actually get into what I came here today to talk about, which is my slate of creator-owned titles. I will try not to go on too long. I want to actually finish writing this and send it out before 2021 starts.
THE DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH
I spent so much of this year so freaking terrified that this book wasn’t going to happen, or that it was going to crash and burn into the abyss. This whole newsletter, more than anything, was designed to help try and prop up this book. I had no idea whether it was going to connect. Its subject matter fascinated me, but it was a bleak book, darker than most I’ve written, dealing with all the muddy grays of humanity… And I was dropping it in the middle of a bleak year, doing a book that dealt with politics in the run-up to an election, and I was poking prodding the live wires of QAnon and Crisis Actors and Birthers with abandon…
But I was doing it in service of a bigger idea, and I am so fucking grateful that that idea has connected with readers and that people are liking and reading this book. We got the news early in December that sales actually went up from issue 3 to issue 4… And this is all before we get our first trade paperback out in the world, having launched the book at a staggering 100k copies out in the wild. All of that gives me the confidence that we’re going to be able to take the time to delve into all the weird corners I want to delve into with this book. Every issue I do research and that research gives me ideas for new stories and new characters within the Department of Truth mythology. January is going to end the first story-arc, and introduce us to the primary antagonist of the series. The opposite number to Lee Harvey Oswald, leading the Black Hat organization. His name is Martin Barker, and by the time this series is over, I hope he’s one of the scariest characters you’ve come across in comics… There’s going to be an arc down the line that unpacks his history that I’ve been waiting to write for over two years.
After that, we’re going to have two chapters that deviate from the present-day story, and bring a handful of incredible artists to the book. These stories continue forward from after the assassination of JFK, with Lee Harvey Oswald trapped in the Department of Truth headquarters, learning about the department and its predecessors. These one-shots establish and expand the scope and the story of the Department of Truth and begin to give a sense of its history.
First comes the incredible ELSA CHARRETIER alongside MATT HOLLINGSWORTH with Issue #6, which will unpack the oldest document in the Department of Truth’s archives. An account from a Monk in the Black Woods in the year 1000 AD. It’s a story about time, and calendars, and my favorite obscure conspiracy theory – The Phantom Time Hypothesis – Which suggests that Charlemagne was a fiction created by the Pope to give mythic credence to the new Holy Roman Empire. It’s about writing and changing history, and the balance of power in the world. Elsa’s art for the issue is beyond stunning.
Following that comes TYLER BOSS alongside ROMAN TITOV for Issue #7, which is going to reveal the origin story of “Doc”, the tin-foil wearing scientist working in the Department of Truth archives in the present day. It’s also the first time we’re going to talk about UFOs and the Men in Black in the series, both of which are crucially important concepts for what we plan on building down the road. Tyler’s pages here are similarly astounding, and I can’t wait for you all to get a sense of what we’re building here.
There’s a story being told over these interstitial issues which will be collected further down the line when they’re joined by interstitial issues between later arcs and the full story is revealed… But as of right now these issues are only going to be available in single issues, and will give the readers of our single issues a secret understanding that Trade Waiters might not get to see until we collect all of these into Volume 4 or so of the series. You’re not going to want to skip out on these issues, I promise.
And then my co-creator Martin Simmonds will come back with Department of Truth #8 to start our second arc in earnest and introduce one of the other top agents of the Department of Truth, who just might be the character I am most excited to write in 2021. His name is Hawk Harrison, and he is the resident magician of the Department of Truth, and he is a fucking asshole. That second arc is going to continue to unpack Cole Turner’s history and the nature of the Star-Faced Man, and how Black Hat is trying to tip the balance of the world. It’s a big, dangerous story I am very, very excited to write.
And THEN there’s the biggest piece of news connected to The Department of Truth that I can’t even begin to hint at yet. There’s been a whole exciting thing happening behind the scenes for months now, and I hope we’re going to be able to discuss it publicly very soon now.
I’m so happy to be on this journey with my co-creator and artist Martin Simmonds, our phenomenal letterer Aditya Bidikar, our designer extraordinaire Dylan Todd, and our fearless editor Steve Foxe. This is just the beginning of the journey and I hope you stick along for the ride. It’s going to go to some weird and wild places.
I don’t think it’s hit me yet that the book that I’ve been imagining since I was 15 years old is real and it’s out in the world. My favorite thing about Wynd is that in a year where I’ve had a lot of loud books, Wynd has been quietly growing in esteem. There’s a huge fantasy audience out there in the world, hungry for new content and I think this is the first time I’ve fully tapped into that audience. I love to see the Wynd fans out there. All of my babies are special, and I love them all equally, but there’s nothing like seeing more and more people discover this world that has been living in my head for half of my life.
For a lot of the people who read it, Wynd is their favorite thing I’m doing right now, and that’s not lost on me. I think this book is going to keep finding a growing and growing audience once it come out in a collected edition, and comes back around for its second volume this summer. Meanwhile, my inbox is filling up with the most beautiful pages that my friend and co-creator Michael Dialynas have ever sent me. Our second year is going to introduce a handful of new characters who are going to help change the dynamic of the book… I figure I’ll spend the next few months introducing you to them, but I thought I’d get started on that today.
Meet the Vampyre General Zedra. She is going to pick up where The Bandaged Man left off in the first volume, as our heroes escape into the wider Esseriel. Michael made the Bandaged Man a truly terrifying and dangerous force in the first book, and our goal with Zedra is to leave him in the dust. It’s always fun to take a character who would feel more in place in an outright Horror series and put them into a Young Adult book… We’re ready to scare some folks moving forward… Wynd first and foremost among them.
Meanwhile, I want to point your attention to the limited edition hardcover collection of WYND: VOLUME ONE, coming out in March! This will only be available for a limited time, before the book market paperback edition is released alongside Wynd #6 in May. This hardcover is our treat to the early adopters out there, and only available in comic shops, not bookstores! Don’t miss out on it!
SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN
I think of “The Empire of the Tiny Onion” as the house that Erica Slaughter built.
I wrote back when I started this newsletter that looking back, I’d see the start of this phase of my career as beginning with the release of Something is Killing the Children #1, and I think that’s held true. Miraculously, this series keeps finding a larger and larger audience. Our 11th Issue outsold our 1st including all its printings, and it feels like it keeps finding more people as we get more trade paperbacks out in the world, in multiple languages… And this is only the beginning. There are a few SIKTC related announcements coming in 2021 that will show the scope of what SITKC has the potential to be in the comics market and beyond. I can’t hint at it all more than that.
Something is Killing the Children wasn’t the book I planned it to be. It was going to be an exercise in doing something different from the sort of work I had been doing at DC. But it had its own intentions and its own notion of what kind of comic it wanted to be. I just put the final touches on Issue #15 before the holidays (Actually, if I’m being honest, over the Holidays), which draws the whole Archer’s Peak saga to a close. When we first talked about expanding SIKTC past 5 issues, this was going to be the finale for the whole series… But the growing interest in the book, and the ideas I had about the larger mythology around Erica meant us reconsidering the series and its longevity. But no matter what, I knew that Issue #15 had to be an ending. I want you all to look at the first fifteen issues of SIKTC as the first Erica Slaughter novel… We’re going to have a surprising intermission, and then we’re going to start the second Erica Slaughter novel. I’ll be talking a lot more about all of that as we head into the next year.
I hope that I’ll be writing Erica Slaughter comics for years to come, working with my phenomenal co-creator, Werther Dell’edera, the phenomenal Miquel Muerto who keeps our blood neon red like it’s supposed to be, and the amazing Deron Bennett and Andworld Design for making sure my dialogue flows on each beautiful page.
And I also want to give a shout-out to Eric Harburn and Gwen Waller who edit both SIKTC and Wynd. I’ve been working with Eric for my entire professional career and these books wouldn’t be nearly as good without his tireless assistance and guidance. I couldn’t be more grateful and glad to keep working with him, and the whole Boom! Family.
There’s a lot more I can say. I could start hinting at the projects that are coming further down the road, I could keep dancing around the secret stuff I’m not allowed to talk about yet, I could talk more about my personal goals and theories about the industry… But I think, like 2020 itself these newsletters have gone on long enough. I wanted to make up for falling off the map after October, and I think I did that.
I’m going to try and keep to a more or less biweekly schedule for these suckers into the new year. If I’m honest, I think my goal in 2021 might be to leave twitter behind and use my newsletter as my primary outlet. I’ll have exciting news and special covers to sell and all sorts of fun things to come in future months.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for supporting my books. Thank you for letting me have this incredible, strange career.
Okay… So, yesterday I waxed philosophic about the comic book industry, and I promised that I’d come back around today to wax philosophic about everything I have planned for Batman. I’ll be back tomorrow with thoughts and updates about my slate of creator owned titles and some end of year thoughts.
SO, WHO’S READY FOR SOME BATMANNERY?!
This week sees the release of BATMAN ANNUAL #5, which tells the origin story of Clownhunter and picks up from the conclusion of the Ghost-Stories mini-arc. Somehow I managed to trick a genie into granting me my greatest wish by giving me a full 38 pages of beautiful James Stokoe art. James has been one of my favorite artists for years, and if you have never read Orc Stain or Godzilla: Half Century War you need to get off your butts and hunt them down right now… But just look at these amazing pages…
Punchline has dominated a lot of the discussion of the new characters I’ve introduced this year, but I’ve been thrilled to see more and more young readers connecting with our dangerous young vigilante, and I’ve been dying to unpack more of him. This issue sets the stage for the next part in Clownhunter’s evolution, and plants the seeds for a story that will start playing out next year… Clownhunter's a key piece of my long-form plans in Gotham City, and I was thrilled to be able to lay out the heart of this character here, in the deft hands of such an incredible artist.
I also want to say that if you are a new Stokoe convert that you should all go add his new creator-owned series to your pull list right now. ORPHAN AND THE FIVE BEASTS is coming out in March from Dark Horse. You can read more about it here. Just look at how cool it’s going to be!!
Honestly, this month has been a big month for me in terms of bucket-lists… Getting to do a short with my friend Tradd Moore in Batman Black & White, and getting to do this Annual with James Stokoe hits the exact itch that I want to in and around my Batman run. We’ve got big, bombastic, superhero content in the everyday issues of Batman, with the incredible art of Jorge Jimenez and Guillem March… But when I’m given the opportunity to do something outside the box I want to take it. Batman is an incredible platform and I want to use it as much as I can to point people towards my favorite artists, especially the ones who lean far away from a more traditional DC house style. It’s also just very fun to reach out to creators I love and ask them if they want to do a Batman story. I’m talking to some incredible creators about doing some short from Gotham projects next year, and I can’t wait to see them come to life.
Along the same lines, I was able to do my last hurrah in the whole Death Metal cycle of stories that I’ve been working on for my last two years at DC Comics in the “Last 52” special, in a short that pits the reanimated corpse of Batman against the reanimated corpse of The Batman Who Laughs in the last battle at the end of the universe. I got to reunite with the amazing Alex Maleev who absolutely destroyed on the story and I’m so damn proud of everything we’ve been able to build…
Death Metal ends in a few weeks times and sets the stage for Future State, which I won’t be taking part in (for the sake of my schedule)… But all of that sets the stage for what we’re calling DC: INFINITE FRONTIER in March and Beyond. I’ve got TWO stories in that issue, one with my Gotham partner in crime Jorge Jimenez setting the stage for all things Batman and one with the amazing Stephen Byrne with Alan Scott, Obsidian, and Jade at the center, building off my Green Lantern 80th Anniversary Special story from last summer.
And that’s it. Goodnight folks! Nothing more to see here!
Oh wait… There’s a LOT more…
The flag of the Empire of the Tiny Onion will continue to fly over Gotham City for at least another year! Batman is going monthly starting in March, and we’re getting a brand-new monthly Joker series launching right alongside it.
In a lot of ways, this feels like a whole new start on my run in Gotham. I’ve been upfront about how I entered the Batman title without a lot of control, and without a lot of time to build out my plans and keep them stable. So I redirected my energy into what I could control, keeping the energy high, the moments exciting, and introducing new characters that I had full control over. I focused on the feel of the book, and tried to make sure there was something exciting happening every issue that came out on the stands. It’s a strange sort of story algebra, and I’m exceptionally proud of where each of 2020’s stories in Gotham landed… But I really can’t overstate how excited I am for 2021, and what we’re going to be able to pull off in both of my titles, and across the entire Gotham line. I started building my breakdown for the year late this summer, and Jorge has been drawing next year’s Batman since the moment he wrapped up October’s Batman #100.
A lot of the principles of what I wanted to build next year into are based on the principles I laid out in the last part of the newsletter. But there’s an added layer when you are working on a character like Batman. Over the next couple of years, viewers are going to have three different cinematic Batmen running around their screens, with Robert Pattinson, Michael Keaton, and Ben Affleck showing up on streaming services and (knock on wood) the big screen. DC Black Label is going to keep on putting out phenomenal Batman comics because they sell gangbusters, and those are going to speak to different prestige elements of the Gotham Mythos, including the beautiful Batman/Catwoman that’s already gotten started. There’s a huge new Batman video game coming out on the horizon centered on the Bat-Family and the Court of Owls, which I am crazy excited about even though I am terrible at playing video games (so I’ll just make Sam play it while I watch, being my own make-shift Oracle).
So… What is the value proposition of a monthly Batman periodical with all of those other different takes on Batman available to readers? And not only the new Batman content, but all of the amazing classic Batman content available on the DC Infinite Universe app and in comic shops around the world? What can you do with the core continuity titles to make them must-read? My take is two-fold… First, you have to basically agree with everything everyone loves about Batman… All your favorite stories happened, all the big important moments are there in the history of this character. Every Robin was Robin. Every big Batman story happened. I’m not going to lean into the places where the continuity contradicts itself, I’m going to embrace everything and look forward… And the way I want to look forward is by moving a bit further down the timeline than we’ve ever allowed Batman as a character to move before.
Roughly, I consider us now at the mid-point, continuity-wise, between “Batman: The Animated Series” Gotham City, and the “Batman Beyond” Gotham City. Which isn’t to say that the future of Batman Beyond should be considered the “set” future of the line… Aesthetically, we’re moving the “present” a bit further down the line than we’ve ever seen it in the comics before. This is part of what I was trying to articulate in Batman #101… The iconic Batman, with Alfred in the cave, a Robin at his side, and Jim Gordon on the roof of the GCPD is in the past. It was a key important era to Batman, the moment at which he was his most effective. The city is changing quickly into something new and dangerous, and Batman needs to change with it, if he can.
Part of the goal of Joker War was to destabilize the Gotham status quo. Batman having operated at peak efficiency for so long, with his resources growing, and his number of allies growing mean that in a grounded “realistic” Gotham City, it feels like he should have taken care of everything by now. The richer he got, and the more tools he had, and the more he learns about each of his enemies, the more it feels like Batman should be able to take down literally any threat that comes in front of him in a matter of minutes. So, my theory was, let’s make it harder to be Batman.
First, let’s bring him back to being a less problematic kind of Wealthy. Bruce Wayne, Millionaire, rather than Bruce Wayne, Billionaire. He’s not so rich that he could effectively buy Gotham City and fix it overnight. There are a bunch of much wealthier people than him in the city trying to maintain their power and influence and Batman is from their world and fighting against them, he doesn’t have the ability to just buy and sell them and walk away. We’re also going to go back to the standard which has been true for almost the entire history of Batman comics which is that the city government and the police are too corrupt and too under the sway of criminals and the wealthy to actually help the people of the city. Some of them are in their jobs for good reasons, and there are people fighting desperately to change those systems from the inside, but once again the power systems of Gotham are always going to be more concerned about protecting themselves rather than protecting the people of Gotham. Batman comes from the world of power, but rather than use that power to protect himself he uses it to protect the people.
And the job is hard, and it is constant, and Batman remembers every day that it used to be easier than it is now, and he has to push himself to new levels because he will NOT give up on Gotham City or his mission. He can’t allow himself to do that. It’s not about grounding all of these threats in the real world. Gotham City is not and should not feel like a real world city. It is a nightmare of a city, and crime and corruption in that city need to be a nightmare of crime and corruption, so that the brightest light of hope in Gotham is a scary man in a Bat Costume working his butt off night after night, with an army of like-minded allies, to save everybody from the most insanely dangerous city in the world.
If Batman is the most powerful force in Gotham - the richest man with the most resources whose best friend runs the Police Department - then all the stories you tell about Batman become deconstructionist stories about Batman effectively fighting himself, or stories about Batman deconstructing himself and his mission. There have been a lot of GREAT stories like that, but Batman came to exist because in a Gotham City without a Batman more children would become orphans and nobody else would do anything to stop it. I wanted to get back to that, without regressing the mythology… One of the things I’m most excited about in the story I’m building next year is that the big plot of the year, and the big villain are doing everything not to try and teach Batman a lesson, but because they have specific selfish wants and goals, and they are trying to bend Gotham to their whims to achieve those goals.
Gotham City needs to feel dangerous and exciting in a way that it requires an army of street ninjas with cool gadgets to function. It needs to feel that kind of dangerous every single day, which makes the entire mission of Batman more dangerous and more important and more heroic. And even with all of his friends and allies, Batman needs to be pushing himself harder than anyone else, not in a tortured way, but because he represents human resilience and ingenuity. He is the best of all of us, the one who will never stop fighting for us, no matter how dark the world gets around us.
But beyond just dialing up the knobs on Gotham City, I wanted to make this feel like a whole exciting new era, with a whole exciting new status quo. Chalk-full of new characters and new challenges. He’s moving into a cool Townhouse in Gotham City in a new neighborhood, with nosey neighbors and tabloids under his nose wanting to understand the new life of Bruce Wayne, Millionaire. His old rival, Ghost-Maker is forcing him to touch up on his training, forcing him to recognize that he’s been sparring mostly with people he’s trained for the better part of a decade, passing along any weaknesses in his fighting styles. Batman is building new, lo-fi Batcaves under the city, and has a brand new Batmobile, with a host of cool tricks and gadgets that looks more like a cool car that can maneuver a city than a tank built for war. Harley Quinn has set up shop in Little Santa Prisca and decided that she is Batman’s new crimefighting partner (Batman disagrees with this. Strongly), and keeps showing up and causing trouble when he’s out on a case. The Fox Family is figuring out what it means to be the new first family of Gotham, and the responsibility that comes with that role. Barbara Gordon, Oracle is serving as eyes on a city that feels more and more like a powder keg. And Jim Gordon is trying to decide what his retirement from the GCPD is going to look like.
Gotham has a new Mayor, a former police officer named Nakano, who was injured in Joker War and has a strong anti-vigilante agenda. There’s a nihilistic youth movement in the city brewing under the direction of Punchline, which has embraced the imagery of The Joker as their sign of dissent, all the while Punchline is building power through a growing new conspiracy with members in hiding in the police, the government and every criminal organization in the city. Clownhunter is trying to figure out what kind of vigilante he wants to be. And there are reports of entire parts of the Gotham Sewers transforming into strange tropical jungles. Vibrant and green, with impossible creatures lurking inside.
Something BIG happens in the Batman-centric pages of Infinite Frontier that serves as the inciting incident for the entire Batman line. Another pillar of classic Gotham falls and sets all the pieces in motion…
In 2021, Gotham City is going to E-X-P-L-O-D-E.
BATMAN is going to bring you a story called “THE COWARDLY LOT,” with Scarecrow in play as our central antagonist. I am very, very excited to do a Jonathan Crane story. He’s been one of my all time favorite Batman villains for years and I haven’t had the chance to do something substantial with him before. And the design by Jorge Jimenez is one of the creepiest I’ve seen for a major Bat-Villain in a good, long time. In my brain, I’m calling this a cyberpunk horror story. It’s about the relationship between technology and the mind and how fear can shape what Gotham’s future can be. More than that, it’s about the balance of fear and memory and how they shape us into the people we are today, and how they can hold us back. This story is also going to introduce the creator of the Magistrate Program, and its Peacekeepers, along with a host of new characters, both good and bad… There’s a group called The Unsanity Collective that I am particularly excited about. Jorge’s design for a character named Miracle Molly is one of my favorite things he’s drawn in all the time we’ve worked together. When we get a little closer to her debut, I’m going to show you the amazing color guide Jorge made for her with her pages in 108.
I’m so damn excited to keep making Batman comics with the incomparable Jorge Jimenez, and the incredible Tomeu Morey. The pages that are already flying in from next year are stellar beyond belief, and as much as I loved Joker War, I think this work leaves all of that in the dust. We’re going to have big action, big horror, big drama, and big excitement on every single page of every single issue. Jorge is already a giant, and I think his work here is going to cement him as one of the all-time great Batman artists. I wish I could just fill this whole newsletter with art I’m not supposed to, but then what would I get to tease you all with over the next two months??
The Batman title is going have an unannounced backup features starting in April (After a two part ROBIN backup by my good pal Joshua Williamson and one of my favorite new artists, Gleb Melnikov, running between the March issues of both Batman and Detective) – I’ve been working with the artist on the next round of Back-ups since late this summer, and I could not be more excited to tell you about it. It is high octane manga-influenced action insanity, with an artist I love, and can’t wait to bring to into the Gotham fold.
That announcement will come with next month’s solicits, so STAY TUNED!
JOKER is going to bring you a very different kind of story.
This is a horror noir book with art by Guillem March. I’m tapping into more of the voice I bring to my creator owned work with this one… And honestly the script to the first issue is maybe my favorite I’ve written in the last year, and I think one of the scariest. The twist to the title is that the protagonist of the series isn’t the Joker. The protagonist is Jim Gordon, and the story is going to send him chasing a mystery about the Joker that will take him all around the world, and put him directly in the crosshairs of all the people out in the world who want the Joker dead… This is a story about the nature of evil, and the different ways evil tempts and breaks good men… and we’ll have Jim Gordon, one of the best specimens of humanity out there in the world walking through this world of evil trying to keep his soul in tact.
This is the story that picks up the threads from Guillem and my Joker War Zone story, and our coda to Batman #100… Which also means that this is the place we’re going to be tapping into the character and the mythology around Bane in a big, big way. I have big plans for Bane and expanding the world around Bane, and Venom, and Santa Prisca. I was re-reading the Denny O’Neil Question issues where Santa Prisca first appeared over the last weekend, along with the original Venom storyline from Legends of the Dark Knight, and the original Vengeance of Bane one-shot that lead into Knightfall… All of that reading started mingling up in my brain with my recent re-read of Elektra: Assassin and I’m very excited to tap into some of those influences as we build things out. There’s a new character we’re introducing in that corner of the title’s mythology, who I think has real Punchline break-out potential.
Beyond that, my influence for this story have been Noir and Spy stories. I’ve been watching a lot of classics of the genre to just fill my brain with the aesthetic. So much in both genres leans into exotic locales and strange characters with mysterious motives, and we have strange characters with mysterious motives in spades… Some of my favorites are a villainous group called the Sampson Family who are a bit of a nod to one of my favorite horror movies of all time, and I think they’ll create some exciting and frightening new villains. And there’s a another bit of Gotham Mythology I have been dying to get back to for a very long time, and they are a huge part of my plans with the series moving forward.
With the first issue in front of me, I can tell you that I think this is career best work from Guillem March, and Arif Prianto is knocking the colors out of the park. I hope this book surprises you and scares you. And I’m going to hang a lampshade on something. I know there are a lot of folks who are going to have a knee-jerk reaction to there being a Joker book. If I weren’t writing it, I’d probably be one of them. Hell, back when it was first pitched to me, I said flat out that I wasn’t really sure how to make that work… And then I sat with it for a few weeks and said “okay, I know how to make it work, but it’s only going to work if we come at it from an unexpected angle.” And thankfully everyone in the Bat-Offices, and the DC offices bought into my angle. It is the scariest book I have written for DC Comics so far. And maybe the most human. I love writing Jim Gordon so fucking much. He’s been one of my favorite characters in all of comics for my entire life.
And then there’s The Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime, himself. The devil of the DC Universe… Where does he lurk in between his bouts with Batman… What is he planning, and what does he want. The Joker bends and changes like a dark reflection of his true adversary, so what happens to him as a character when you take that adversary away. I’ve always been fascinated about the Joker, and I’ve always loved writing the Joker interacting with and against the villains of the DC Universe, going back to when I wrote the back-up stories to Death of the Family storyline in the New 52 Batman run. I’m already having so much twisted fun writing him here, and I am so excited for you all to see it.
I haven’t ever been given the leeway to write a title like this in continuity at DC, and I am so freaking excited to have that chance here.
The Joker title is going to have PUNCHLINE backup features starting in March, co-written by Sam Johns with art by the incredible Mirka Andolfo. This story is going to continue what we started in the Punchline one-shot, continuing the story of the growing Joker Gang conspiracy in Gotham, Punchline’s trial, and the efforts of Leslie Thompkins and Harper Row to ensure Punchline stays behind bars for good.
And here’s the bit that I am MOST excited about… This is going to be the most unified Bat-Line that you’ve seen in years, with one of the most exciting creative line-ups that I think we’ve had in the near-decade I have been working in and around Gotham City.
BATMAN by James Tynion IV and Jorge Jimenez JOKER by James Tynion IV and Guillem March DETECTIVE COMICS by Mariko Tamaki and Dan Mora NIGHTWING by Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo CATWOMAN by Ram V and Fernando Blanco HARLEY QUINN by Stephanie Phillips and Riley Rossmo BATMAN/SUPERMAN by Gene Luen Yang and Ivan Reis ROBIN backups by Joshua Williamson and Gleb Melnikov PUNCHLINE backups by James Tynion IV, Sam Johns and Mirka Andolfo
And the new Gotham Anthology title, BATMAN: URBAN LEGENDS featuring the following stories in its first issue:
RED HOOD by Chip Zdarsky and Eddy Barrows GRIFTER by Matt Rosenberg and Ryan Benjamin HARLEY QUINN/POISON IVY by Stephanie Phillips and Laura Braga THE OUTSIDERS by Brandon Thomas and Max Dunbar
For the first time in the history of my working in and around Gotham City, I have an answer to pretty much to the “where can I find THIS character” for every fan-favorite. Urban Legends is going to be a real gift. A lot of storylines will be seeded in that title before they break out into their own titles… There are also more books to come in the Gotham line as the year goes on. Big moments in the core Gotham titles will set new runs in motion in other titles. Backups and shorts might turn into one-shots and miniseries and series, and we’re working to make sure it all matters.
We have some of the best creators working on stories with these characters, who are the best characters in the comics industry, and we are working together to make sure all of it connects. Not to the point that each story won’t stand on its own, but our goal here is to build a new and exciting era of Gotham City, with this larger status quo and ethos reflected in each title. I wrote a long-form Gotham Bible over the summer that lays out a lot of what I was laying out to you earlier in this newsletter. I also wouldn’t be able to do anything without the trust and support of the incredible Batman editorial group - Ben Abernathy, Paul Kaminski, Jessica Chen, Dave Wielgosz, Amedeo Turturro, and Rob Levin. Each of these amazing editors has a whole slate of incredible projects in the works, and we’re all working together to make all Gotham comics can’t-miss reading.
I think the current line of X-Books have shown the strength of a line of titles working in tandem with each other. We’ve set up a monthly zoom call between the core Gotham writers to keep everything in line together. I had a long chat with Ram V just the other day about how we can weave together a series of story threads between the Batman and Catwoman titles that are going to pay off incredibly when they all come together.
That wouldn’t be possible without a plan, and right now, I have a three-year plan for both the Batman book and the Joker book… Those plans are separate and not dependent on each other, though they might wink at each other from time to time… Now, years two and three of that plan will only happen if you guys show up and support these titles and the direction we have for them, and every year is going to stand alone as its own complete arc, its own beginning, middle and end… But there’s a tremendous strength in being able to play the long game with these characters. To be able to confidently lay down some tracks into the future. To be able to say that these new characters we’re introducing aren’t built to be flash-in-the-pan. They’re being built to last.
Of course, at the end of that three year road, if everything works out… The Batman and Joker threads will slam together again, as we draw to a close a bunch of the threads of this era, and I see whether I can finally get the key piece that I pitched to DC last summer, and ride off into the sunset…
But three years is a long time from now, so maybe I’ll have come up with something even COOLER by then. The goal is to keep the near future as tightly planned as I can manage so that everyone else in the line can build off of it, and keep the mid-and-far future loose enough that we can duck and weave with what works and what the line needs.
Anyways… More to come on all of this, particularly as we get closer to FOC on those March Titles… In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Future State. I am, admittedly going to enjoy the break in having no Big Two books on the shelves for two months… But then I’ll be back and raring to go
HOUSEKEEPING Okay, only one more newsletter to go and then I can call it for the year. See you crazy kids tomorrow…
What a fucking year it’s been. Thank god it’s almost over. I hope next year is better, but even if next year is the year the sky opens up and butt-eating demons from the eighth dimension pour down on all of us, it’s still nice to wrap the year up. It’s still nice to get that feel of a clean slate, and all the possibility that comes with it. Next years horrors will be organized into a separate list from this years, and I’m happy with that.
This year has had extraordinary highs and extraordinary lows and I’m not about to unpack them all for public consumption… But more than anything I’m grateful for the support you all have given me and my work, even as the world burned around us. I remember when it first sank in how devastating the coronavirus was going to be, and I really thought that all the years I spent planning for this year were for naught. I came into 2020 with a theory about what I think I could do to make the Batman comic sell, and how I could funnel all of that energy into my creator owned books to make them sell, too.
That was what the idea of the Empire of the Tiny Onion was… How do you keep the ball rolling once you have something hit? It felt like all of that was just crumbling in my hands. Covid-19 was going to hobble the knees of my Batman run and end any hopes of me continuing on the title. I wasn’t going to be able to keep funding Department of Truth without a release date and I might lose Martin to some other project. Wynd and SIKTC were going to be buried in the middle of this nowhere year and both series would end unceremoniously and prematurely. And I’d be sitting here at the end of the year without any of these projects and uncertain prospects for the future.
There were months where, especially here on the newsletter, I was grinning and handselling the crap out of books through tears and pain and panic, absolutely unsure if any of it was going to work, or if it was going to connect… I am pretty sure at some point in April I had a conversation with my friend and mentor Scott Snyder about taking some kind of admin role in his new publishing entity Best Jackett Press if I crashed and burned… But miraculously the books found their audiences, and I was able to parlay my success on Batman into success elsewhere and build on that success. I gambled big on 2020, and somehow that gamble paid itself off, and now I’m going to work my ass off to pay it all forward in a year I hope brings more stability to the comic book industry. Or at least, a little less instability.
Most of my next year is already announced, with the news about the ongoing JOKER title at DC. I have one unannounced book on the docket for sometime mid-2021, with Alvaro Martinez Bueno… The book I called PROJECT LAKEHOUSE back when I was using my clever monikers at the start of this newsletter. The cover to the first issue of that one has been the lock-screen of my phone for the last few months. It’s a weird book that I’m excited to talk a bit more about in a few months’ time, and I’m spending a lot of time thinking about it this week… We have some exciting stuff brewing in and around Something is Killing the Children which will be exciting as well. I might sneak in one more original by the end of next year, but probably only one or two issues before 2022? We’ll see.
Other than that, I’m going to be chugging along on BATMAN, JOKER, DOT, SIKTC, WYND, and continue publishing RAZORBLADES: THE HORROR MAGAZINE quarterly. Hopefully at some point I’ll get to sleep a little. Right now I’m assuming conventions aren’t happening until Q4 of 2021 at the earliest, which means I can write more than I would otherwise (spoilers for non-creators, every convention usually wipes out a full calendar week of productivity, and I used to do 10 or more of those suckers a year)… I think even when they do come back I’m going to keep my slate light. A couple of domestic shows a year, and a couple of international shows a year. As much as I can, I want to stop putting myself in a gauntlet and racing myself to death.
But there’s one more gauntlet I wanted to put myself through in public for all of you. I started writing this newsletter with the intention of it running as a singular piece, but as the page count grew and passed 20 pages in my dinky little word document I figured it might be best to break it all up.
So here’s how we’re going to do it:
PART ONE (This Newsletter): Some Thoughts and Principles about the Comics Industry and the priorities and assumptions that shape my work, along with updates on RAZORBLADES: THE HORROR MAGAZINE (which has officially started to ship).
PART TWO (Tomorrow): The Batman Show – Big picture thinking and talking about what I am excited about in 2021 in regards to the newly monthly BATMAN title with Jorge Jimenez and the brand new ongoing JOKER title with Guillem March… Maybe some hints at some of the new characters we’re creating in each title.
PART THREE (Wednesday): The Creator Owned Update – Updates on THE DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH, SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN, and WYND, some hints at other irons I have in the fire, and some of the books and comics that most inspired me most this year.
So… Onto today’s portion…
I wanted write some of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few weeks. Which is more of what I want to get this newsletter back to. I think from late summer through October I was just in full-on salesman mode with this bad boy, which was exhilarating in a lot of ways, but mostly exhausting. I set out to have a home for my thoughts on the comic book industry at large, and I want to get back to that a bit when I get into the new year.
I’ve had a few friends and acquaintances ask me for my thoughts on the comics business, and the sorts of priorities I’ve been centering as I’ve built each of my comic projects… So I thought I’d write up a little manifesto of sorts that lays out where I’m coming from.
None of this is scientific, it’s all anecdotal and based on what I’ve found has worked for me. It all organizes down to five fundamental assumptions I have about the comic book industry, what those assumptions say about what problems we face, and how I’m looking to address those problems. I think there are valid counter-arguments to each point, and there are very successful creators right now whose work flies in the face of these assumptions. But, at the end of the day, all I can point to is what has been working for me philosophically speaking in what has been the most tangibly successful year in my 9 years working in comics.
Also: I want to limit the scope of the conversation here to mass-market comic books. If you’re out there trying to do niche content for niche audiences, then these goalposts don’t matter for you, and you should go forth and make weird stuff and I am going to hunt it down and read it because I LOVE weird niche comic stuff… At the end of the day you should be pursuing the kind of comics that speak most to you.
But I think this kind of stuff DOES matter in regards to the sort of content that can break through in the direct market. You need to consider the audience you want to buy your book and consider why they should pick your book over the alternatives in this medium and other mediums. There are different answers to the question based on what audience you’re targeting. The audience I’ve been targeting is the one I’ve been talking about on and off in this newsletter for the last year - The passive comic fan who probably only buys a few trades a year, and the new reader, who has some vague ideas about popular comics (probably has a friend who’s more plugged in), but is just trying it on for size to see if it fits.
I’d say that reader is usually roughly 15-25 years old. Maybe a little younger or a little older, but it’s young people with some (but not much) pocket change who don’t have kids yet. Other media points them into the comic shop, and our job is to try and capture them in that brief, fleeting moment, before other geek media (or other corners of the comic book industry) capture them and they’re gone for good.
So… Take it all with a grain of salt, but if you’re interested in where I’m coming from, read on. If you’re just here for me to talk about Batman, you’ll have to come back tomorrow.
Okay. Here are my five assumptions…
1. WE HAVE WON BACK THE FUTURE OF OUR MEDIUM, BUT NOT OUR INDUSTRY
When I started reading comics regularly as a teenager, comics for kids really weren’t a thing anymore. The closest thing was maybe Calvin & Hobbes collections you could pick up in the humor section of a bookstore. But now we have over a decade of consistent, bestselling work in the hands of elementary and middle schoolers thanks to Jeff Smith, Raina Telgemeier, and Dav Pilky. All the major publishers are putting out graphic novel content now, with most creating entire graphic novel divisions. Graphic novels have claimed space in libraries and bookstores, and kids are growing up knowing HOW to read comic books, which is half the ballgame. The last time this many kids grew up on comic books was in the peak newsstand era.
So, on one hand, there’s the sigh of relief that there’s a hypothetical audience that will continue breeding life-long comic book fans. That is absolutely great to know as a creator. My hope is that the 10 year old reading Dog-Man today is the 30 year old reading my horror comics when I’m 53. Here is the problem: Unless they grow up in a geek household, they don’t know about comic book shops, and for those who do… the superhero content on the shelves in those comic shops looks roughly the same as what they can get at home with superhero movies and TV shows, but isn’t in the same continuity as those movies or tv shows, and there’s not a clear way in to those mythologies (except for Star Wars, which has clear labels about how their whole media ecosystem is connected – Which is smart).
So that’s the bit of math we are trying to solve: There is a hungry audience getting older ready for the content we’re making droves of, and there is a distribution system, but the distribution system is still built for the hungry post-Newstand audience of the 1970s, not the hungry post-Scholastic book fair audience of the 2020s. If we don’t build the bridge between the direct market and that audience, the book publishing and bookselling world is going to swallow the comic book industry once and for all and our corner of the comics industry – dominated by serialized genre pulp content – is at risk of dying.
I don’t think it has to.
2. WE HAVE CEDED TOO MUCH GROUND TO MANGA AND VIDEO GAMES
So, you have a young person. Let’s say he’s 15 years old, and he grew up on middle-grade American comics he’d get at a scholastic book fair, and he walks into a comic book shop. The superhero stuff has that uncanny valley look to it… It’s all versions of the characters he kind of knows, but they’re a little different than how they look in the movies, and it feels like each of them comes with homework and they don’t want to feel stupid for not knowing something that they should know. There’s plenty of middle-grade and YA stuff, but now he’s an older Teenager and that’s all “Kid Stuff”…
So, the whole direct market new release shelf glosses over in front of him and he finds himself in front of the Manga shelf. Where the stories start with a volume one and go on from there, and he’s heard about a few of the titles before from friends, but he hasn’t seen any blockbuster movies with his parents or anything… And then he picks them off the shelf, and every character has a really cool look, that looks NOTHING like the superhero characters from the movies and tv-shows. And get this… you get like 200 pages of content for the price of like, two floppy comic books. So that’s what the kid chooses to buy. And then he finds out he can get those books at any bookstore, or he can order them online, and then he never sets foot in a comic shop again, despite continuing to read comics. OR, the kid picks up nothing, and saves up his allowance/bugs his parents to get him a video game and he never reads a comic book again.
I have seen far too many people say that American comic books can’t compete with manga or video games, and so they don’t even try. Manga and Video Games are sexier than most modern comic books. They are more action-packed and violent than most modern comic books. They have more consistent long-form soap opera content than most modern comic books. But they still accomplish all of that without losing their fingers off the pulse of the mass market, all still targeting that all-important adolescent demographic. They are doing sex, violence, and relationships for teenagers in every genre imaginable, and those teens fall in love with their characters and draw fan-art and write fan-fiction of them and talk about them with their friends and build whole communities around it, just like every generation has in the history of geek culture. But the western comics scene is getting edged out of that conversation.
So that presents the second math problem to solve: How do you create something that captures the attention of that potential new reader that wants serialized genre pulp content that makes them pick up the comic book, instead of the Manga or the Video Game?
3. NEW READERS DON’T WANT YOUR HAND ME DOWNS
Look, at the end of the day, if you’re reading this newsletter you are probably a big nerd. It’s okay, so am I. Part of being a big nerd is that we carry a deep and powerful love of the same things we loved when we first found our love of the medium into our adult lives. We want the comics that mattered to us to be enshrined and respected, and we want the comics we continue reading to enshrine and respect those same comics. But to do that, puts comics in a position where there’s this self-referential and self-important echo chamber that is alienating to new readers. NOW, there’s always going to be a place for those types of comics, and there should be. We’re always going to want some niche content that scratches that itch for the die-hard lifers… The trouble is, over the last 20 years, I feel like almost ALL superhero comics have become those types of comics, and we’ve stopped seeing how niche that content is.
I’m guilty of it, too! My Detective Comics and JLD runs are chalk full of me bowing at the altars of my predecessors. I’d like to think I did a good job with it! When something is referential and reverential of past stories in a good way it can point readers to great comics of the past, and flipping through old long boxes is and will always be an important part of this hobby. I think the most successful content like that is something like the current X-Men line at Marvel, which fully embraces its convolution and doesn’t shy away from it. It’s a whole line of books for the X-Men lifers, who want to know what’s happening in the lives of every minor character from the X-Books that were on the stands when they first started reading, and it does it without favoring one era over any other. It can be revelatory to see someone uncover the depths of an era you might have undervalued (See how the Clone Wars animated series added depth to the whole Prequel Era of Star Wars movies), and that underpinning can make new readers only ever see those older eras through the lens of the smarter take. But you can’t pull off runs like the current Hickman X-Line without generations of new X-Men, and the generations of X-Men fans that found that franchise WITH those new characters. “Embracing all that came before” implies that there have been waves of what have come before, and every generation always wants its own, new characters to introduce them into that world.
How many of us, when we were teenagers, liked all the media our parents reverently passed down to us? I don’t know about you, but I was always drawn to the sorts of things that kind of flew over my parents’ heads. My Dad read Nick Fury and Thor comics when he was a kid, and my Mom read Archie, but by the time they were in high school they had left the comics rack behind. Which was great for me, because it was a world I could traverse on my own, and the worlds I discovered became my own. When I was about 10 years old, my Dad took me to a comic book shop and I was MESMERIZED by the X-Men: Age of Apocalypse crossover event. It had all come out at that point, and the shop had a whole section dedicated to the books. It looked cooler than anything I had seen before, and I got them all. I had watched the X-Men cartoon and had a rough idea of the mythology, but that Joe Mad art was like an artifact from another dimension, and since the storyline was an alternate history, it was that perfect combination of complicated enough that there was a whole exciting world to unpack, without being alienating because it was all self-contained. Now, I’m imagining a world in which that Comic Book Shop in the mid-late 90s had more books that were designed to appeal to the sensibilities of my 40 year old father, rather than my 10 year old id. If they were trying more to hand sell him a sophisticated adult take on Nick Fury and Thor rather than leaning into more of the adolescent exuberance that lay at the heart of the AOA comics…
Would I be reading comics today, let alone writing them?
Reading those books, I fell in love with Blink and Morph because they were MY CHARACTERS. You could tell reading the books that they were favorites of the writers and artists, getting to establish them and their dynamics among the whole X-mythos. I remember how disappointed I was to find out that Blink was dead in the main universe, and that Morph basically didn’t exist. That made me not want to pick up monthly X-Men comics, but then I DID pick up her solo miniseries when I eventually started it, and that road lead me to what would become a favorite book of my middle school comic book reading years: Exiles.
New readers want new characters that they can get in on the ground floor with. Once you give them those characters then you can use them to introduce those readers to the entire larger mythos those new characters are connected to. A new character deployed correctly creates new tensions, and new social dynamics in the core cast of a book, and gets a new generation pulled into the soap opera. I think we need to look at our comics through the eyes of the young new readers more often… The comic shop should be a portal to a thousand different fascinating worlds with new characters welcoming you to old franchises, alongside wholly new franchises that they’ll get to own wholesale with their generation of readers.
And to make this point clear: I’m not saying the more mature comics that are for the long-time reader shouldn’t exist! Back in the mid-late 90s, if that comic shop had something to offer my dad AS WELL as me, it would have been the strongest possible combination. Exciting adolescent content featuring new superhero characters embedded into classic franchises and sophisticated content featuring the characters adults grew up feels like the way forward to me. There should be content for new readers, die-hard readers, lapsed readers, etc. The issue is going all or nothing and I feel like we’re coming out of 20 years of very niche targeted work that is not accessible to the new readers our corner of the industry needs to survive. We keep playing to a shrinking in-crowd.
By the way, I think the importance of new iconic characters goes beyond just superhero comics. I know I’ve said this before, but I think over the last decade we’ve seen a lot of people trying to create a Sandman series without a Morpheus at the heart of it, or a Transmetropolitan without a Spider Jerusalem. Comics are a visual medium, and you should have a cool iconic looking characters at the heart of every comic book, particularly if you want young people in their late teens to early twenties to pick it up. I think people look at the Vertigo books of the 90s as the polar opposite of their superhero counterparts, but they just looked equally mind-blowingly cool in a totally different direction. When I was 10 years old the Joe Mad Age of Apocalypse pages blew my mind, but when I started spending my own money in high school, it was trade paperbacks of Vertigo books with characters that looked cooler than anything I had imagined before. Cool in a way that appealed to me as a pretentious teenager who thought that I was smarter than everyone around me.
Aesthetic matters, and exciting looking characters move comic books, and that’s true whether you’re writing superhero books or indy titles. I think you’ll find iconic characters at at the heart of every indy megahit of the last 20 years, even the most grounded ones. Look at The Walking dead – I guarantee you can picture Rick Grimes’ cowboy sheriff or Michonne’s wasteland ronin with a katana look when you close your eyes. Those iconic characters are posters in and of themselves that draw readers into your books. Every time somebody else draws your new character online, or gets and posts a commission of your character, or cosplays as your character is an advertisement of your book. Serialized pulp fiction has ALWAYS had iconic characters at their heart, and that is doubly true in a visual medium like comics. If a new generation of readers can’t find new characters to latch onto in western direct market comics, they will go to other media to find “their” characters, and manga and video games has characters ready and waiting for them to love.
4. BUT THEY DO WANT THE SAME CLASSIC STORIES
Most of us writing comics have been comics readers for ages, and we’ve seen a lot of stories told well featuring the characters we are gearing up to write for whatever company we’re about to write for. So, when we sit down to craft those stories, we often try to craft that hooky elevator pitch that takes everything in a whole exciting new direction. Everyone’s always trying to figure out the “Anatomy Lesson” style clever revamp of an entire mythos, reinterpreting everything that came before with a new lens. And it’s still possible to pull that kind of storytelling off well – I’d argue that’s what Al Ewing and Joe Bennett are doing spectacularly in their Immortal Hulk run… But at the end of the day, the pursuit of the “clever” take has led to a lot convoluted comics. A crowded pool of comic book writers vying for a limited number of gigs mean that writers often have to show off, and without a clever “twist” to your pitch, your pitch might not land you the gig after all. There’s a kind of one-upmanship that leads to a lot of people trying to prove that they’re the smartest kid in the class, trying to go after recognition from their peers more than keeping their eyes on the fundamental question:
What is a reader actually looking for when they pick up a comic book?
The question is different when you’re looking at the niche audience of comic book lifers, vs new readers who are just testing the water to see if they want to come in. The lifers are more interested in a novel take, even an overcomplicated one, because it’s different than the 30+ years of comics that are already in their brain. The newcomers want more of the basics because it’s all new to them and they’re discovering the tropes for the first time… With Superheroes, they want to know about their powers, and/or their gadgets, and they want to see them using those powers and/or gadgets in new and exciting ways. They want to see cool looking people fighting cool looking people in cool looking ways with a good bit of soap opera draped around all of it to make them care about and connect to the characters at the heart of those stories. The more we overthink that, the more people we lose.
I remember back when the Black Panther movie came out, how blown away I was about how deftly they built all of this complicated Marvel lore into one of the most successful superhero movies of all time, but when I looked at it closer, it’s because it stripped itself down to such a simple story that felt archetypal and Shakespearean. It’s a story about Brother vs Brother (or rather Cousin vs. Cousin), fighting for the throne and the future of their kingdom. It’s the sort of story we’ve been telling for thousands of years, that our mythologies are rich with, and it didn’t stand in its own way or overcomplicate those pieces, it just told the story well, using the Marvel Universe as a backdrop, and treating all of these characters and their mythology as new (because to most of the people watching the movies, it was). And now your aunts and uncles all know what Wakanda is, when that used to be a deep dive comic book history question.
The Mandalorian right now is probably the best example of this. They’ve stripped the Star Wars mythos down to its basics, left a trail of breadcrumbs for every generation of Star Wars fans, and they are just telling simple adventure serials (the sort of stories which all Star Wars DNA comes from) with new characters at the center of it. The fact that the Jedi as a concept needed to be introduced to our lead made them all the more magical, both for long-time fans of the franchise, and the millions of young viewers digging in to this mythology for the first time. It’s not trying to be overly clever, or deconstruct anything. It’s just telling simple stories that lean into the DNA of what makes Star Wars great.
In pursuit of novel content, we overcomplicate things.
I think a lot of the gatekeepers of the industry can exacerbate this. They remember how a thing was done 30 years ago because they were there, and they bend over backwards not to repeat something familiar to them even if the repetition is more interesting and authentic to the character today, and the old story is completely unknown to the new reader. They also remember what things didn’t work in their youth, when comics and geek culture were an entirely different sort of thing than it is today. The biggest area I experienced that kind of gatekeeping was the rejection of sidekicks and teen superhero legacy characters with the kind of knee-jerk attitude you’d get growing up in an era where “Robin” was something corny that you’d roll your eyes at.
The rejection of the camp of the 1960s Batman TV show from fans who grew up in the following generation of geek meant a generation of decision-maker that hated bright saturated colors, and smiling teenage heroes, despite the fact that a whole new rising generation of creator and reader didn’t have any negative connotations to those kinds of characters and stories. In fact, the fans of those characters were out there creating their own content in fandom communities in lieu of the publisher pursuing that kind of content officially. I think it’s a simple fact that readers are drawn to characters roughly their age, and that’s been true forever. The fact that Batman 66 burned that trope out for a lot of people who started reading comics in the 70s and 80s doesn’t mean that math should still be considered a half-century later. It also ignores the intense popularity of the New Teen Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes, and youth-driven X-Books through the 1990s – The rejection of young characters at the big two started in earnest in the mid-late 2000s right as we as an industry stopped trying to win over young readers, opening the door for Manga to scoop them out from under our noses.
There’s a truism in comics that any single comic book might be somebody’s first comic, and despite that, we don’t write comics that way anymore. We get caught up on how a trope ran its course (and tropes do burn out from time to time), and then we continue rejecting them far longer than it’s necessary or smart to do so. So, the decision-makers take away storytelling tools from a rising generation of creators, who are so removed from the reasons that those tools have been taken away that they have to write against their instincts to play into what the decision-makers have deemed to be appropriate. And then a generation raised on comics that have deliberately ignored the more obvious, straightforward story tools let those prejudices become ingrained in themselves, rather than just telling simpler, straightforward stories.
This goes for Creator-Owned series as much as it does Superhero comics, although the back to basics storytelling is different in each genre and story type. I think more people would be best served by stripping things down to the core of what they’re trying to sell a reader… Something is Killing the Children drops a hero-style character with a mysterious backstory into the middle of what is meant to feel like a Stephen King novel, it’s got that bit of sensationalism in the title and the fact that it doesn’t shy away from killing kids in its pages, but aside from that it is trying to tell a simple, direct story playing with the classic shapes of serialized stories about heroes, and horror stories. Wynd is classic hero’s journey styled fantasy in a contemporary feeling fantasy setting and a queer protagonist, and some fun twists on how magic works. Department of Truth is a headier book, dealing with headier subject matter, but there’s still a simple sell at the heart of it - Do you want to learn more about dangerous conspiracy theories and their history, all decked out in cool looking art, and a handful of really cool, scary looking characters?
If I’m doing my job, every issue of each book fulfills the promise of what the book is meant to give you. Hopefully in exciting, interesting ways, but the simplicity is what makes any of it seem revelatory. In each case I tried to strip the story down to the basics of what I was trying to do, and then I just tried to execute that story to the best of my abilities. And if you pick up any issue of any of those comics, I think you can get a sense of what the book is and what I am trying to do with it.
It feels to me, that it is often better not to try and reinvent the wheel, and rather just try to build a really good wheel, point it in the right direction, and let it roll. That doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do it, and there are a million phenomenal exceptions to the rule, but I look at the work that Brubaker and Phillips are doing right now as the pinnacle of the comics trade and the key example of what I’m talking about. They are executing simple stories masterfully, and they are consistently the best books in the field, year in and year out.
5. IN COMICS, ART IS KING
I mean, the header says it all, but comics are a visual medium, and without art it is nothing. We forget that.
In the 21st Century, writers have ruled the roost a bit too often in the superhero comics business, and I think the industry has suffered a bit because of that. Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been incredible comics created in that time, but you look out there right now, and there is an entire generation of hungry young artists ready to show everyone what they’ve got, and the rising generation of writers would be much better served by playing more to those artists strengths, and working to show off how cool those artists can be, rather than working to only show themselves off.
This doesn’t mean make dumb, flashy comics. Make really smart, art-driven comics. Hell, having absolutely stunning outside-the-box art often means you CAN go more experimental, because readers still get something out of looking at how cool it all is, even if the story is challenging. But you know what? Yeah! There should be some dumb flashy comics out there pushing the boundaries of style in our side of the market. There should be superhero books that are exciting to look at on every single page. Good art makes simple stories better. Good art makes complicated stories better. And the definition of good art changes in different corners of our industry, but usually what it requires is being in sync with your artist. Recognize your strengths, and the artists’ strengths and lean toward them.
I said on twitter earlier this year that I think the goal of comic book writing should be the creation of stunning comic book art. And I believe that. Not at the expense of all else of course, but if you’re not working in sync with your artist to make the book look good, you are NOT going to make a good comic, no matter how good the idea is behind it. It’s all about a synergy of passion and intent, in service of the creators, for the benefit of the audience.
What our version of comics – monthly periodicals in the standard comic size – has over manga and most of what comes out of the book markets is SIZE. We have a bigger canvas, and can have more detailed characters and more detailed backgrounds. Not that you NEED details to make use of the canvas, but we do need to consider HOW we make use of that canvas and capitalize on the advantages that canvas gives us. We are offering dozens upon dozens of these phenomenal art books a week, every week of the year… And there are opportunities on every page of every on e of those books to do something dynamic and interesting that makes a reader lose their mind. Every book is different, and there are a million ways to answer the question of how to maximize the use of the canvas, but if you’re not considering it at all as a writer, then you’re wasting an opportunity to catch people’s attention.
I think you also have to give the reader what they are buying the book for in a visual language. You should have a great visual horror beat in every issue of a horror comic. A great visual action beat in every issue of a superhero comic. There are exceptions, where you can subvert expectations to an incredible effect, but you have to trade the image the audience expects for an equally dynamic image that is equally interesting to look at. If I have a more conversational issue of a superhero book, I try to showcase a dynamic new part of their superhero base, or show off a new gadget, or a new costume. There are a million ways to do it, but you have to consider if what you are trading what the readers expect when they pick the book up still makes the book feel like it was worth picking up.
I think, in general, there needs to be a bit more “Id” in our side of the comics business, which you usually only get when you unleash the artist. There needs to be more stuff that just feels and looks cool, and artists need to be empowered by writers and editors to let loose. Lean into the strengths of your artists and show off exactly what you love about their art on every page you can. Shake up how you write your comics. Experiment with plot style, or plot-hybrid, especially once you’ve gotten into a good rhythm with your collaborator. And then get out of their way as much as you can. That last bit I’m still working on. I’m a wordy motherfucker – (see this very newsletter for example) - and I write some talky comic books… But I’d like to think I’m getting better about being wordy in the right places, and letting the art drive the story – I think the more I’ve done that, the bigger an audience I’ve gotten, and the better I feel about the work. But it’s a process, and one I’m still going through, and my hope is my comics 5 years from now are much better than the comics I’m writing today.
At the end of the day, I think the underlying feeling of the piece often matters more than the polish you put on top of it, both in the writing and the art. When you as a creator get that feeling you know you’re trying to hit, don’t talk yourself out of hitting that raw nerve just because it doesn’t make 100% sense, or it’s a little out of step of the plot you initially laid out. Follow your gut. Try explaining the exact plot of most of the most seminal Anime and Manga out there… The plots aren’t always structurally coherent, but it leaves you with a feeling you carry with you forever, and moments that are absolutely incredible. The same goes for a lot of 90s Superhero comics, and the dynamism of those comics is still unparalleled. The whole market shouldn’t be like that, but in a world where your average geek has a million venues to get similar stories, the excesses of our style and art are often what makes our corner of the comics medium special. And leaning into those excesses opens up more doors than it closes.
Once again, this comes to the gatekeepers and decision-makers. It is the case far too often in comics that writers write comic scripts without knowing who the artist is, and sometimes that’s unavoidable given the pace that comics come out. But I think sometimes the gatekeepers get worried about letting new, exciting styles blossom because they are out of step with the kind of art that they loved growing up. This isn’t true across the board, and there are great people at the top of each company who get really excited about new talent in every direction it emerges and work to let that talent shine, but ultimately their job in corporate comics is often brand maintenance and they’re going to put the brakes on if something pushes the limits too much… That’s always going to be the case…
But we need to be the velociraptors, testing for weaknesses in the electric fences, trying to push the boundaries where we can, and see what we can get away with. This goes doubly for the rising generations of creators who have a whole vibrant world of comics that live in their head that the gatekeepers don’t see yet.
It’s our job to try and make them see what we see is possible.
QUESTION: How do we capture the imaginations of young, new readers when they graduate out of reading all this great middle grade and YA comic book content?
ANSWER: Tell classic, simple stories with new cool looking characters with jaw-droppingly awesome art that are more in conversation and competition with the dominant geek media of our time (Manga and Video Games) than the western comics of the past.
Or I’m wrong.
But that’s the math at the heart of everything I’m doing right now. Everything I’m looking to build in Gotham City, and with SIKTC, and with DOT, and with WYND… And even with RAZORBLADES, though the math there leans further into point #5 – That’s meant to be a showcase of a bunch of different styles of art that I want to see more of in our industry.
There’s a larger piece connected to all of this, which taps a bit into what I was saying about Gatekeepers…
I think a huge thing standing in the way of this industry progressing is that so few young people are in decision-making positions at the major comic book companies. That may finally be changing, but youth needs a voice in art that is targeted to youth. And I’m not even a youth anymore! I’m 33 years old! I have friends with children that are in SCHOOL! And I’m still a baby by the direct market industry standards. Somehow, I’ve spent a decade working in comics consistently being the youngest writer in the room. Thankfully I had more senior voices vouching for me when I was just getting started, and that saved my ass even when my tastes clashed with the folks on top of the ladder. In that time, the people greenlighting books have typically been the same people who were making decisions about which books to greenlight since I was in High School in the mid-00s, if not longer.
That might finally be changing now, but I think as the rising generation, we need to stop waiting for permission to do the sorts of comic books we think should exist in the world, and worry a bit less about ruffling the feathers of our elders. The people in those positions today didn’t wait for their predecessors to hand the keys over, they went out and built their own corners of publishers, or built wholly new publishers, or publications that gave them the clout to step up and take charge of the bigger industry players. I think there’s a larger problem in my generation that we’ve spent our whole lives waiting for the grown-ups to show up, and the truth is the grown-ups are always going to have their own interests at heart, not ours. There’s a sad truth at the heart of that equation, which is that it is very difficult to retire in comics. If you want to keep at it, you keep keep facing a growing pool of new generations of creators fighting for the same limited space to make the comics they want to see in the world. And the decisionmakers and gatekeepers are always going to favor their own peer group until they literally can’t afford to anymore. The rising generations are always going to need to fight to claim space in the industry, but ceding ground to the rising generation is always going to be necessary to bring new ideas into the conversation and let our corner of the medium evolve.
Structurally, we need to build a better endgame to the industry (And beyond that, even, a better path toward retirement in the country at large). I’m trying to build my career today with my life 50 years from now in focus. I want to own more of my own IP outright. I want to have equity in more characters I create for bigger companies. I want to create perennial sellers that will keep me comfortable through royalty payments. I’ll want to diversify outside of the medium so I can make enough money to keep making comics even if that’s not the avenue I continue to make a living out of. But it should be easier, and the people in power should be doing more to fight to make it easier for us, and we should be doing more to force their hand to build those roads so our elder statesmen stop fighting for space in the same bake-offs that we’re in, and they can focus on more personal work rather than still fighting with us paycheck to paycheck.
But even without that endgame in place, if the rising generations want a firmer hand in shaping and building the comics industry we want to live and work in, we need to take that firmer hand ourselves. I already see a lot of creators taking things into their own hands, with crowdfunding, and just making their own little weird side projects and I find all of that incredibly heartening. I want to see more of it.
We need to build more platforms for ourselves to do the sort of work that the big corporate gatekeepers aren’t going to understand, because it’s not for them. We also need to advocate within those big corporate settings to pursue more outside the box ideas in tune with our voices and our tastes. We need to talk more about our goals and dreams of what this industry can be, and have those conversations in public forums that have a longer memory than social media, so those discussions can become our history. We need to promote the most interesting work of our peers and hold them up as the new standards to help change the industry even faster, and those of us who get to the front of the line first need to do more to lift up the people coming up behind us.
I also think in general we MUST own more of our own intellectual property and more of the means of getting that intellectual property out in the world.
So, yeah. Those are the principles on which I want to build my work and my career over the next decade. Or maybe I’ll do this for a bit and then I’ll try and do a few books that defy each of these principles just for the heck of it.
I know a lot of my peers have newsletters of their own… I’d love to hear more about their guiding principles and ideals, and the kind of industry they want to see in the future.
Let’s start the conversation and see where it takes us.
RAZORBLADES: THE HORROR MAGAZINE
SO… Enough pontificating, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
As some of the folks who have emailed with me directly are aware, we’ve had a bit of a delay with Razorblades which put us a little over a month behind schedule getting the physical books out into the world. But I am very pleased to say that the books are now with our distributor, and at writing we’ve shipped out over half of all Razorblades orders placed back at the end of October. I’ve already seen the first few people on twitter receiving their copies at home. The goal will be to have almost everything shipped out by the end of the week, or the start of next week. We had a scary moment over the weekend where it looked like the whole shipping system we’re using might not work after hours of lining all the pieces up just right, but THANKFULLY that was not the case.
I want to apologize for this. There were a pile-up of inconveniences back in November that lead to the delays. I was buried under deadlines while dealing with some family health issues. We had so much revenue come in that Gumroad kept flagging it and delaying the transfer to my bank account, which delayed payment to the printer long enough to run into Thanksgiving, and so on from there, with Covid-based shipping delays rearing their head as well. I hope everyone forgives us the hiccups as we got our whole system in order here for the first time. I’m really excited to get my hands on my own physical copies of the book when I get back to Brooklyn next week.
I’m considering setting the print run of #3 in advance, since we have the Subscription sales accounted for, which will allow us to sell through our stock without needing to wait for an order window to be resolved. There’s a risk of us ending up with too many copies or the book selling out, but I think I overcomplicated the system last time. The most important thing to me is getting physical copies of #3 in readers hands much closer to the launch date. Right now, we’re targeting either the third or fourth week of January to drop the third issue online, and we’ll open up sales at that time. There will probably be a special edition only available on launch day, but I need to game that out as well.
All of this is still up in the air, and I am considering all options. But there will be more news about #3 coming up SOON. We’ve got some tremendous talent lined up for the issue and I’ll start crowing about it in the New Year, hopefully as subscribers get their hands on their copies of #1 & 2.
Also: Starting in January, we are going to shift from the Gumroad store to a Shopify store on my new Tiny Onion Studios website, which we are aiming to launch the first week of January. That should help resolve some of our issues with the system paying us out, and help the shipping process in general. When the new site is up, we’re going to close down the Gumroad site for good. If you want to buy copies of Razorblades or enamel pins or anything like it.
Meanwhile, we’ve lined up tremendous talent for Issues #4 & 5, and I just about died when I got the cover to Issue #4 in my inbox.
Tomorrow, I’ll get into Batman and Joker, and then we’ll do the rest on Thursday, but I think this is enough to whet your whistle today! But in case you don’t know, the BATMAN ANNUAL #5 with art by James Stokoe is out in stores today, and it’s one of my favorite issues that I’ve done all year! Go pick it up!