12: Dispatches from Limbo

I’ve been putting this off a few weeks now, with the whole world seemingly under Coronavirus Quarantine, until I had something REAL to say… But I don’t know when that will be and maybe it’ll be easier to just free associate until I have something substantial enough to ship off to you all as a newsletter. 

You are all my guinea pig therapists right now. Prepare for my mighty existential angst! But really, It all boils down to a pretty simple emotion…

This sucks. This whole thing fucking sucks. 

It’s like there’s a constant scream underlying everything, and the best you can do is just sort of ignore it until you can more or less pretend you can’t hear it anymore, but then when things get quiet, ALL you hear is the scream. That’s a bit melodramatic, and I know it, but it’s true. This whole thing is exhausting in a way a convention is exhausting. Being a creator at a con, you basically have to be “on” twenty-four hours a day, trying to make sure everyone has a good experience at your table, trying to sell books, trying to pitch projects, trying to catch up with friends, trying to get the right networking in, etc etc etc. There isn’t a moment where you can just take a deep breath and detach from everything so you can regroup before you have to re-enter the world. This feels weirdly similar, despite being holed up away from people. It’s that omnipresent scream demanding attention. It is an effort to listen to the scream and acknowledge it. It is an effort to not listen and turn away from it. Everything is effort. Nothing is easy.

Especially writing.

I write by finding a kind of rhythm to the language and ideas I’m working with and just flowing with them, but I haven’t been able to find my flow in the last couple weeks. To do that means focus, and focus feels next to impossible. I’m more or less on top of all my projects, so I can AFFORD to kind of stare off into space a bit, which almost makes it worse. I think having the gun-to-my-head that is an imminent deadline would get me off my ass and working more steadily. I guess I have that to look forward to. The fun thing about deadlines is that if you ignore them they all become imminent pretty quick, and none of my too-many projects are pencils down, as of yet. But I also have no idea when the next issues of anything are going to get into your hands, and where they will come from.

I wish I could tell you that I knew of some big secret plan that was going to make everything better in the world of comics. For most of the last couple weeks, all the messages I’ve been hearing have been a full on Direct Market Apocalypse on one hand, and that I should keep working as if nothing has changed on the other. The answer is clearly going to be messier and in the middle. This is going to hit our industry hard, and it’s going to take creative solutions to weather it. A creative  stopgap solution was presented this week, but time will tell if that’s the one publishers, retailers, and distributors jump for. I appreciate creative solutions, though, and I hope they keep coming. 

My desperate hope is that no matter how harrowing this is, that we come out of it a stronger industry with new tools to reach a larger audience. All I want is to sell and promote my comics to the most people possible. I have a lot of stories I am only beginning to tell. My goal in 2020 was to establish myself in a bigger bolder way than ever before and reach as many fans as possible. To use Batman as a beach head while I continued telling exciting stories in my creator owned. That’s why I started this newsletter. 

I’ve started building a lot of bridges to the next stage in my career and while the fog means I can’t exactly see the land on the other side right now, I have to believe that the land is there. That there are just as many readers tomorrow as there will be today. I think there may need to be adjustments to story and scale of ideas to help bring people to the table, but I need to believe that anyone who cares enough about comics to follow this newsletter is going to be eager to keep reading comics when the floodgates open again and product starts hitting the market, in whatever shape it takes.

Maybe that’s stupid, but I have to believe it to keep pushing forward, because I desperately WANT to keep pushing forward.

I am excited about tomorrow. The high concept tomorrow. Not like… Friday. I spent yesterday morning discussing my plans for Batman into 2021. I spent the afternoon talking about some cool projects that will branch out of Death Metal. Right now I have lettering for a Green Lantern 80th Anniversary Special Alan Scott story with Gary Frank art that I keep having to pinch myself to remember that it’s all real, and a lettered copy of Batman #95, the start of Joker War. I have, in a folder on my desktop, the full first issue of PROJECT DALLAS. I have in my inbox, the contract for PROJECT LAKEHOUSE. Wynd and Something is Killing the Children pages keep on coming in.

But it’s scary! Today was supposed to be a very different day. Batman #92 was going to hit stands, with its Artgerm and Jorge Jimenez variants. I heard the original FOC numbers for this issue and they were staggering. And the sense I’ve gotten is the series numbers got a big lift directly following it… And that’s all BEFORE we launched a massive Joker event. A lot of what I’ve been trying to build on that book is momentum I’m desperate to keep carrying forward, but as of right now, I have no idea when Batman #92 will be in stores or out digitally or any of it. Let alone Joker War. So I don’t exactly know how best to carry that momentum forward. 

I look forward to clarity. I look forward to knowing when you can read my comics, and I can start hinting at the cool new Bat-Characters I’m going to introduce in late 2020 and 2021. I have big plans! I am excited about them! I want to get you excited about them, too! Punchline, Clownhunter, The Designer, Gunsmith, Mr. Teeth… Those are just my first two arcs. I’m trying to build cool new toys for all of you to play with. And there are the classic Bat-Characters I’m dying to get my hands on too…

There’s a whole crazy world of comic books I’m creating for you, inside and outside of Gotham, and I’m eager to find out when I can show them to all of you. In the meantime, I need to keep my head down, and read less twitter. Read more books. Sleep more, and try to make peace with the everscream…

There was a moment in Week One of Quarantine I was thinking I’d use all this spare time to cook up a pilot script or a screenplay. There’s an idea that’s been brewing in the back of my head that feels more suited for the screen than for comics, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to flesh it out. A horror story that plays with the early days of the internet.

Maybe next week I’ll get used to all this lunacy and knock out another couple comic scripts and make it happen. 

Or I won’t!

TELL ME WHAT TO READ, JAMES! OH GOD, I NEED THE COMIC BOOKS!!

Similar to my screenplay/teleplay instincts, there was a moment in week one where I thought about trying to pull together a zine I could print and ship from my apartment, or maybe start up a webcomic, but then I remembered that my contracts haven’t been paused and I can’t do that right now…

But there are plenty of comic books to read. Do you have any idea how many comic books come out in a given year?! I think even the most voracious comic book reader has a giant stack of comic books they haven’t gotten to yet. So first step is to use the break to catch up. Read big stacks of cool comics. Stay up late catching up an exciting run, like I did the other week with Daredevil and Immortal Hulk. But let’s say you’ve did that in the first few weeks of quarantine, and you’re hungry for more, but don’t know where to start! Decisions are tough in the face of Coronavirus! So here’s some thoughts.

  1. Comfort - Re-read the comics that made you love the medium. For me, I burned through Planetary on week one of the Quarantine, and I’m rereading Nextwave right now. I’ve got my eyes on Bone in the coming weeks. Also maybe Pluto by Naoki Urasawa. Find the book you loved the most, but haven’t read in ages, and plug it into your brain for that sweet sweet rush of joy.

  2. Enrichment - If you love a writer or artist and haven’t had the time to read through their backlog, or if you love a character like Batman or Spider-Man, but haven’t read all the classics… This is a perfect time to dig back and enrich your love of the current books by exploring the past.

  3. Experimentation - Go outside your usual safety zone of comics. If you only read western comics, get your hands on some Manga. If you only read superheroes, pick up some independent titles from Image, Boom!, Vault, Dark Horse, etc. If you only read DC, pick up some Marvel trades. If you only read mainstream, direct market comics, try some books out from the super indy side of the business. If you only read adult comics, see why the kids are lapping up every Raina Telgemeier volume they can get their hands on. There are LOTS of amazing weirdo comic books in the world and you can put them in your head. We’re all trapped in our houses, and you might find that bold new stories and modes of storytelling help escape better than the familiar. If I wasn’t a comic book evangelist, I would also be suggesting you read a regular book, but we all know books are better when they have pictures in ‘em.

  4. Read MY Books - Hey bozos, this my newsletter that I made to sell you my comics, and I know I write in a bunch of different corners of the business. I did a whole Twitter thread earlier this week with a run-down of my independent work, like The Woods, Memetic, and Something is Killing the Children. If you only read Batman, I hope you check some of those books out. On the flipside, if you only discovered my superhero work recently, you should go check out the Rebirth Detective Comics run, Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Justice League Dark, and Constantine: The Hellblazer!

How to pick those up? If you’re in a state that hasn’t locked down yet, and you’re comfortable swinging by your LCS, I’m sure they’d love the business. But in more and more places that isn’t an option, and I also don’t want you risking your health by encouraging you to go places outdoors. Thankfully, a lot of people are doing a lot of work to help comics get to YOU.

There are also a LOT of comic shops that are offering mail order right now, even in the current shutdown. Give your LCS a call and see if they offer mail order right now, and if not, maybe look to one of the other shops offering it… Third Eye Comics is one of my favorite shops in the country. There are also the obvious answers of Digital Comics, and the major online retailers, but I will say that if you have a good relationship with your local comic shop, they could use your help right now a lot more than Amazon. So if you’re in a position where you can help your LCS, they would very much appreciate it.

Now, I agree with all the twitter threads that this is a profoundly stressful time, and you shouldn’t feel the burden of a project, but if you love comic books enough to follow this newsletter, I do recommend you find some time to rekindle your love of this medium. Find books that speak to you, now that the faucets of new content have been turned off for a minute. Find books that you connect with in the same way you did with the books that got you reading in the first place.

I believe, with all my heart, that comic books are the most exciting innovative storytelling medium that exists on the planet. I think they capture your heart and attention better than any other kind of story. They are special, and beautiful, and there are mountains of great comics you haven’t read yet.

Go exploring.

SOMETHING FOR YOU TO CHEW ON…

So, my original plan was to show off the Clownhunter design, and talk a bit about the character and how he’ll appear in issue #96, and how I’ve already seen the first variant with him on it and all that cool shit. But I’ve been asked to hold back on that until we’re back in a world where you can actually order your books, and we know, generally WHEN Joker War and all of that is going to come out. Which is FAIR.

But I still want to give you something new and exciting to chew on…

So how about the first four panels of my Green Lantern 80th Anniversary story, featuring Alan Scott, with art by the incomparable Gary Frank!

And check out this jaw-dropping splash page from SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #7, with art by Werther Dell’Edera, and colors by Miquel Muerto!!

And what about this contextless black and white page from my unannounced PROJECT DALLAS?! With art by the phenomenal Martin Simmonds! Have I said that Martin and I have a book together?! I guess I’m saying it now! And look how freaking gorgeous it is!

AND WHAT ABOUT THESE COLOR PAGES FROM WYND?! Art by Michael Dialynas! Look at our babies!!

Pretty cool, huh?

I am very excited about all of these comic books and I am ludicrously excited to sell them all to you in the next year. All of these trains are barreling forward, even in the face of limbo.

When the floodgates open again and comics start heading back into shops, I’ll be beating the drum hard to get you all excited for them. Honestly, I am most excited to share what we’re building in Batman. While writing this I got the lettering for 96 in as well, and I am VERY excited for you to read it.

HOUSEKEEPING

I’m going to try and keep this going, and maybe I’ll pull a Rick Remender and start pulling out some old rejected pitches and documents that I can show you. I’ll figure something out. My weekly newsletter is turning into a monthly newsletter, and I don’t want that. Honestly, writing all this has helped me get out of my head a bit.

Hopefully we also start getting clarity on when I can get you some of these comic books to read, and you get clarity on when you can order them. Then I can start being my cheeky self and start drumming the beat to all things Joker War, and all the things that tie-in to Joker War, and all the things that spin OUT of Joker War

And I REALLY want approval to show you all what I’m doing with Clownhunter…

James Tynion IV
Johnstown, PA
4.2.2020