Wild in ways I’ll be getting into with you all very, very shortly. Like, the next few weeks shortly. It’s a very strange thing to have a big exciting secret that you’re dying to shout out to everybody. And I have a few big exciting secrets right now. I signed the contract for one of those big exciting secrets last week, and had a bunch of phone calls about another one of those big exciting secrets earlier THIS week…
Tied into those big secrets are a lot of big thoughts about what the future of this industry could look like. It feels like a few things are coming together all at once in a way that could lead to very exciting opportunities to make cool, weird shit in new and interesting ways.
One big secret I’ve been keeping since pretty early this year is that Mike Flanagan and Trevor Macy are developing SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN for Netflix. Hollywood is a very strange animal, one I’m figuring out slowly but surely. I’ve got a lot of things moving over there in various shapes and sizes. Some I’m more involved with than others, but I’ve been having a bunch of very very exciting conversations (which I get the sense is the majority of what happens in Hollywood – You have exciting conversations, and maybe just maybe at the end of all of those conversations you have a TV show or Movie!). I can’t say much more on this front other than cross your fingers… I have a pilot script in hand that is deeply respectful of the source material and bad-ass in its own right, and I desperately want to see it on screen.
But that’s not the announcement I’m here to talk to you about today. I want to talk to you all about some cool new comic books you’ll be able to get your hands on this October.
And then we’ll reconvene in a few weeks to talk about some of my OTHER secrets.
THE HOUSE OF SLAUGHTER
This October sees the launch of the first spin-off title in the SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN universe (which doesn’t have a good _____verse title, does it? I tried calling it the Slaughterverse for a few weeks, but that feels a little too aggressive, doesn’t it? – I’ll work on it.)
It’s called THE HOUSE OF SLAUGHTER.
I’m joined on the writing side by the incredible TATE BROMBAL (Barbalien: Red Planet), and Werther and Miquel are joined on the art side by the phenomenal CHRIS SHEHAN (The Autumnal). We’ve got a whole bunch of covers for the book. To spotlight a few we’ve got the A-Cover by Chris Shehan, the B-Cover by Werther Dell’Edera, the requisite Jenny Frison special, an incredible NICE HOUSE ON THE LAKE homage by Alvaro Martinez Bueno, and an amazing piece by Mike Del Mundo.
I’m really excited about this… Going back to the first introduction of the House of Slaughter in the pages of SIKTC, I knew there was a lot of story to tell around the house itself. Originally I was wondering if we’d do little one-shots in the flagship title to flesh that story out… But SIKTC is Erica Slaughter’s book and that’s where we’re going to tell Erica Slaughter’s story. As this first arc of HOS kicks off, Werther and I will be hunkering down to plot out Erica Slaughter’s next adventure in her adult life, picking up from the end of SIKTC #15. That story will kick off in early 2022, but we wanted to take this opportunity to keep expanding the world. Think of HOUSE OF SLAUGHTER as the BPRD support title to SIKTC’s Hellboy. SIKTC will always be me and Werther telling Erica’s stories. HOS will bring in other rad creators working closely with both Werther and myself to bring the rest of this strange and fascinating world to life.
And the character I heard the most questions about while we were working on the first big story-arcs was AARON SLAUGHTER, and when we started talking about building House of Slaughter, I knew that he was the ideal central character for the story we wanted to tell. I actually got a very friendly but stern message a few months ago from a Dad who reads SIKTC with his teenage Daughter that she was heartbroken when we killed off Erica’s effete handler and brother-figure from the House of Slaughter in the first SIKTC story cycle, and I was very very excited that I got to tell him that we had lots more plans for Aaron Slaughter in the future. In the present of SIKTC, Aaron Slaughter may be dead, but he died with secrets that he never got to tell Erica, and those secrets may come to haunt Erica in the present day later on.
There are two key story threads in the first arc of HOUSE OF SLAUGHTER. The “Present Day” story takes place directly before the events of the first 15 issue story cycle of SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN, and details Aaron Slaughter’s last case before he sent Erica to Archer’s Peak. And then there’s a storyline in the past that details a key period in Aaron Slaughter’s teenage years at the House of Slaughter, picking up shortly after the events in SIKTC #16-20. This storyline is going to be the first to introduce another “House” in the Order of St. George, and a member of that house.
Folks have been asking for a bit what the deal is about the FCBD Issue, “INTO THE HOUSE OF SLAUGHTER,” and now I can confirm what we’re doing there a bit… It takes all of the conversations we saw Erica having on the phone with Aaron Slaughter in the first SIKTC arc, and shows the other side of those conversation, with new material that hints toward the story we’re going to be telling in the first HOUSE OF SLAUGHTER arc. It also might have a cameo appearance of the character we’ll be introducing in earnest in House of Slaughter #1.
Anyways… It’s really fucking good. Tate and Chris are fucking awesome. If you haven’t read BARBALIEN or THE AUTUMNAL, you’re missing out on two of the best comics of the last year, both of them real talent showcases. So go do your homework and then tell your LCS to add House of Slaughter to your pull list!
DC VS VAMPIRES
So, way back at the start of me doing this newsletter almost two years ago (What?! Really??!! Two Years?????) I hinted at a project that I referred to as PROJECT TEETH.
At that time, I thought my run on Batman was going to end at Issue #100, and what would have been the 5G initiative was going to kick off after that, and after a few conversations I realized that I didn’t want to participate in what was cooking for the mainline DCU on the other end of 100. The entire publishing initiative was being cooked in house, with the goal of having writers execute a vision they didn’t get to contribute much toward. I tried to see how flexible it was going to be, and quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be all that flexible. I wasn’t interested in writing other folks ideas, but I had signed a DC Exclusive Contract that was going to keep running almost a year after I was done with Batman #100. Nice House on the Lake was already approved, so I knew I’d be able to work on that, but I still had one slot in my exclusive contract to fill.
So, what was I going to do?
Around that time, Ben Abernathy had become the Batman Group Editor, and I was really enjoying working with him. Ben had just returned to the editorial side of the business with the juggernaut of DCeased, and as a bit of a horror guy, I said “Man, I would love to just do a DC Horror apocalypse story that lives in its own little bubble that won’t be touched by the main line” and Ben said “Well, pitch me one.” So, I did! The pitch was titled, simply, DC Vampires… I wanted to come at a horror apocalypse from the other angle from DCeased… By the end of the first issue of DCeased, an intense Zombie Apocalypse was already ripping through the world and the people in it… But I liked the idea that we might be a slow burn apocalypse… A conspiracy growing in the shadows of the DC Universe, that escalates slowly and terrifyingly issue by issue until the world is unrecognizable.
The story starts with Andrew Bennett, wrapped in blankets, trying to get into the Hall of Justice at high noon with a terrifying message that there is a new Vampire leader on Earth and what he’s plotting will mean the end of human domination of the planet. And it ends, twelve issues later with… Well… You’ll have to wait and see. I wrote a light breakdown of the twelve issue run, and had it ready in my back pocket for when I finished Batman #100 and left the book…
But then Batman doubled in sales in six months, 5G didn’t exist anymore, and all of my creator owned books were doing so well that I wasn’t going to seriously consider dropping any of them. I didn’t have the bandwidth to do DC VS VAMPIRES by myself!
I could have just dropped the idea entirely, but both Ben and I liked it too much. Ben asked me if I’d consider co-writing the thing, and I said “yeah,” and then he asked me who I’d want for that kind of thing… And there’s a key character in the story that I kept imagining with the voice of a Matt Rosenberg character, so I said that “I doubt that we could get Matt to sign up to co-write a thing with me, but I would love someone with that feel and that sense of humor to counterbalance the horror.” And Matt’s a close friend, so I was like “But I can text him and see if he might be interested.” And he was! And then after figuring out a key Birds of Prey related beat later in the story, and rereading Matt’s incredible run on HAWKEYE FREEFALL, I remember I messaged Ben saying, “Do you know would be incredible on the art for this series? Otto Schmidt.”
And somehow we managed to bring this whole dream team together! And now you get to read us turn a bunch of your favorite DC Heroes into soulless Vampires and murder each other and take over the world! The story is out of continuity, so we can really kill people, and also so we can have Alfred Pennyworth in the story to serve tea as needed. It’s going to be fucked up and scary and fun, and Otto is drawing all of it BEAUTIFULLY. This was announced a few days ago, but they missed out on announcing some of the fun covers we’ve got cooking for this… We’ve got an amazing cover from Jorge Molina that’s going to be a Glow-in-the-Dark variant… And DC is doing their whole Team Variant thing with an amazing piece from Ejikure!
Anyways, more to come on all of this… This is really fun and gross and weird, and there’s a beat in the first issue with a blender that I wish I could take all the credit for. We’re going to have a real fun time destroying the DC universe and turning all your favorites into blood-sucking killers.
BATMAN: SECRET FILES
The last announcement of the week is that I’ve got another BATMAN: SECRET FILES issue cooking in October, this one featuring the origin of PEACEKEEPER-01.
We’ve hinted at a bit of this in the main title, but I have this whole mythology that lives in my head about the GCPD that I’ve always wanted to make canon because it just makes absolute sense that it would be this way. Basically, when Jim Gordon was made Police Commissioner, he would have purged the entire department of a whole bunch of the most obviously corrupt officers. And the families of those officers would have developed a deep-seated grudge against how Gordon ran the GCPD, and his relationship with Batman.
Sean Mahoney came from a family of corrupt cops. The sort of folk who moonlit as armed security for the Falcone Crime Family in the pre-Batman days, and who were all on the take, but they were embedded enough in the power structure of Gotham that they were untouchable until Gordon took the top job. That would have happened right around when Sean Mahoney was looking to sign up. He was raised believing that he would be one of the finest officers in the history of Gotham, but Gordon wouldn’t let a member of such a corrupt family join up… So Sean ended up as a prison guard at Arkham Asylum, and the resentment started to grow, until it all boiled over at A-Day, and then Simon Saint had the clever idea of putting him in one of the most advanced suits of Police Armor the world has ever seen! What could go wrong?!
This Secret Files one shot tells a bit of that story, and I got the amazing Ed Brisson to help me write it. Ed is one of the best crime writers in comics right now to put it all down on paper. (Seriously, if you haven’t read MURDERBOOK, you are cheating yourself out of some very good crime comics). This is the first time we’re getting to work together since we were on team BATMAN & ROBIN ETERNAL, and I’m very very excited for you all to see what we’ve cooked up for you. We’ve also got the phenomenal Joshua Hixson on art here… I’ve loved Josh’s work for years and years, and we might have a TOP SECRET thing in the works for you on the back-burner. Also want to give a special shout out to Rafael Sarmento for the amazing cover above!
I’ve got one more Secret Files one-shot to go in and around Fear State, and I’m very excited to announce who I’m collaborating with on that…
But all of that will come next month.
THE NICE HOUSE ON THE LAKE #1 is going back to a Third Printing! There’s a 1:25 cover with the third printing that finally gives you all the character guide you’ve been clamoring for!
THE DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH is nominated for “Book of the Year” at this years’ Harvey Awards!
Right now, my plan is going to be to shut down my main James Tynion IV twitter account at the end of August. I’m going to stop monitoring it personally at the START of August, and use it to push everyone toward the new @ReadTinyOnion account and this newsletter. After that time, I’ll have somebody managing my social and this is really going to be the only place to hear from me, directly. So if you’re already here, you’re in good shape! But follow that account!
I think we’ve got about 80% of all Razorblades: The Horror Magazine #4 orders out the door, and the rest are going to follow shortly thereafter. We’ll have news about Issue #5 in August, and then we can start talking about what comes next for the whole Razorblades operation.
We sold out of almost HALF of our stock of SIKTC enamel pins between retailer and customer orders in our first week.
There are still more in the first printing available on TinyOnionStudios.com, and if you’re a retailer who wants the bulk rate to order them for your shop, the offer is still open! Just email TinyOnionStudios@gmail.com.
Anyways… Some big news coming in the next few weeks. The Empire of the Tiny Onion marches ever onward.
It is time for the long storied, mythical “short newsletter” from James… It’s been one hell of a month, and I want to dig into all of it, but there have been some exciting new developments that are reshaping a lot of my plans for the next year or two. I’m very excited to talk about all of them with you, and let you in on what I’m going to be building…
The Empire of the Tiny Onion marches on with conquest in its eyes! I’ve lined up some incredible collaborators on some new projects I’ll start hinting about soon. If the whole run of Something is Killing the Children to Batman to Wynd to Razorblades to Department of Truth to Joker to Nice House on the Lake was all the first phase of my evil plans for world domination, I’m finalizing the all of the pieces of phase two.
I think I said in an earlier newsletter that the rest of the year was going to be relatively quiet from me, and now I think I can say in earnest that you should forget that. I’m up to some shit. And if you’re subscribed to this newsletter, you’re going to get a front row seat to everything I’m looking to build. I’m unbelievably excited.
But let’s get to the meat of it…
RAZORBLADES: THE HORROR MAGAZINE #4
The next issue of Razorblades is now available on the Tiny Onion Studios website. It’s got this amazing cover by Becky Cloonan.
We have comics in the book by Me, Fernando Blanco, Josh Simmons, Vita Ayala, Kelly Williams, Alex Paknadel, Jason Loo, Rich Douek, Alex Cormack, Aditya Bidikar, Rosh, Erika Price, Zack Davisson, Jolyon Yates, Daniel Kraus, Jenna Cha, Stefanie Dioso, and Raymund Lee! Illustrations by Maria Llovet, Daryl Toh, Wipor Mont, Ricardo Lopez Ortiz, Trevor Henderson, Hannah Comstock, and Aaron Campbell! A short story by Adam Cesare! A featurette by Becky Cloonan on the making of her cover! Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou! It’s available in digital, pay what you want, and there is a limited number of Physical copies on sale on the website!
I was thrilled to work with my friend, the INCREDIBLE Fernando Blanco on the cold open to the book, a story we call “Whiteout.” Fernando has been kicking ass on Catwoman over the last year, but I’ve been dying for the chance to work with him again (and hey, we might be cooking something a bit bigger on the back-burner, so stay tuned. We also have a pin-up of my murderous son, Killboy, by his other father, Ricardo Lopez Ortiz… Ricardo has been rocking out on the Ghost-Maker backups.
If you bought Issue 3, you know it took a while to get into your hands. This time, to mitigate that, we didn’t even put the issue up for sale online until the books were en route to our distributor from the printer. Our goal is for orders to ship out over the next few weeks. Foreign orders are, as always, going to take a bit longer but we’ve made some steps to mitigate that as well. For those of you international readers still waiting for copies of #3, a batch of books got damaged in customs en route to our international distributor and we had to send replacement copies – I’m sorry that it’s taken so long, but I promise you that if you ordered a book it’s on its way to you. But Issue 4 should get to you all much faster. Thank you for bearing with our small operation.
There is one more issue of Razorblades coming in the current release cycle, and we’re probably going to repeat the current model of waiting until it’s. I’d expect it in your hands by September, but keep an eye here. We preview the cover of 5 at the end of the book, and the cover is by my incredible Nice House on the Lake partner in crime, Alvaro Martinez Bueno… There are some artists in this last issue that I am losing my mind that we got to contribute to the project.
And then we can start talking about all the evil we’ve got planned for 2022…
SOMETHING IS PINNING THE CHILDREN
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL, FOLKS… I’ve also got some new merch available. The first batch of officially licensed SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN pins! The logo pin is designed by Dylan Todd, and the rest are designed by my SIKTC co-creator, Werther Dell’Edera. They are BEAUTIFUL, aren’t they??
I’m actually going to start advertising these in the pages of SIKTC, so I have a feeling this first batch is going to go quick. So put your orders in now!
Also available at TinyOnionStudios.com – And Retailers, I’ve set aside a big batch of these for those of you interested in ordering in bulk at half off retail price. Hit me up at TinyOnionStudios@gmail.com and we’ll get you sorted.
EVERYTHING ELSE THAT’S FIT TO PRINT
The Department of Truth was nominated for four Eisner Awards! Best New Series, Best Continuing Series, Best Writer (that’s me!), and Best Letterer (Aditya Bidikar). Please consider us if you’re an industry professional voting in the awards! But the nomination means the world to the whole team.
Something is Killing the Children and Nice House on the Lake letterer Deron Bennet of Andworld Design ALSO got nominated for best Letterer at the Eisners! I’m gonna make him and Aditya fight in a battle pit to make my choice between the two of them.
The Department of Truth’s latest issue’s sales are the second highest since our FIRST issue, which is fucking nuts. You are all lunatics, and I love you so, so much. Thank you for supporting this weird book.
The Nice House on the Lake #1 sold out, and the second print just FOCed higher than DC’s original internal projections for how the first issue would sell. And Issue #2 is holding those numbers strong. Completely blown away by the continued support.
We announced that our big Scarecrow story is going to erupt into a whole line-wide event called FEAR STATE! Check out this rad cover by Jorge Jimenez!
Tying into Fear State, I’m getting to dive into a few of the characters I’ve created, and in September I’m going to be telling the origin story of Miracle Molly with the incredible Dani, who I have been dying to work with for YEARS AND YEARS. Look at this great cover by Little Thunder!
I’ve got a lot more that I am dying to tell you all, but I need to wait until the ink dries on a few neat contracts I’ve got laid out in front of me. And I think separate from all of that, we’ve got a few more big fun announcements coming next month! So stay tuned. I’m going to get some more newsletters to you soon.
And meanwhile, keep picking up Batman, Joker, Wynd, Something is Killing the Children, The Department of Truth, The Nice House on the Lake, and Razorblades: The Horror magazine, so I can keep making more cool stuff for all of you.
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.