13: The Great Machine Is Rumbling

You can hear the gears creaking and moaning as it slowly comes back to life. The hum of the machine isn’t quite what it should be, it hasn’t gotten back to full steam, but after a few months of silence, it is undeniable that it’s moving again.

The comics industry, despite reports to the contrary, is alive, and new comic books will be returning to their natural platforms as we kick off the summer. Now, does that mean we’re all out of the woods? No. Of course not. But as much as comics was hurt by the fast shuttering of the country (and the world), I think we’re also going to benefit from being able to open our doors faster than other establishments.

Even if it’s just for curbside pick-up, mail-order, or if it’s just letting a few people inside at a time. Bookstores and Comic Shops are going to be able to get back to functioning long before Movie Theaters or Restaurants. And since people still can’t go out in groups, there’s a pent up demand for home entertainment.

People want stuff to read. So, let’s give it to them.

And sure, this is all a bit bullish, but for the sake of my mind, I have to think a bit bullish right now. I might be trying on a bit of forced optimism. I’m writing this from my couch in Brooklyn, NY, right at the heart of America’s very-own epicenter. I’ve got my stack of masks by the door for when I walk our dog, and I’ve got an extra bottle of hand sanitizer for my pocket when I go out into the world. NYC is probably going to stay shut down longer than anywhere else in the country (and with good reason). My summer remains a massive question mark. I’m not saying that the coming months aren’t going to be hard, but I can’t help but be excited about an influx of new comic books to read.

Which isn’t to say I’m not expecting our little world to change.

We’re already seeing moves in the middle of the pandemic that I think will be echoing forward for a long, long, time. The comic book industry is no longer operating with a single distributor, with the birth of UCS and Lunar. Marvel is moving some of their titles to digital rather than bring them back in print. DC has fast-tracked a whole new digital slate. There are other moves I’ve been seeing and participating in behind the scenes that are equally fascinating. I know these moves have freaked a lot of people out, but like I said in the last newsletter, I appreciate the people who are trying shit out in the face of all of this. I even appreciate the messy solutions that don’t work! Most new ideas don’t work! But that doesn’t mean they’re not worth exploring and debating. I hope we see more ideas as things continue, and the country starts reopening.

The hope is that a pause in a system can reinvigorate it. That it can remind us what we love about our little corner of the world, and solidify what we don’t in a way that lets us cast out the bad and elevate the good. I think the roaring universal stress of this moment in time is going to keep us from TRUE enlightenment, but I have found my brain bending and twisting into new shapes in the face of this crisis in a way I hadn’t expected it to. I have to hope that’s happening elsewhere, and I’m eager to see the works and business solutions that arise from it. I’m eager for all new ideas about how to keep and ultimately grow our audiences.

In my last newsletter, I was a little too optimistic about how often I’d keep writing these while the world was on pause.  But every week I just felt like I had nothing more to say. Part of the fun of this beast is getting you all riled up and excited for the new comics on my horizon, and when there were no new comics coming, it felt bizarre trying to give you that hard sell. I didn’t want to try and get you excited about “Clownhunter” in Batman, without being able to call your shop and put in an order for his first appearance (Which is in Batman #96, which is now tracking for an August release).

I started writing a newsletter a few times in the early weeks, but I kept finding that I didn’t have much to say other than the same mundane observational shit about how much it sucks to stay inside all the time and not see your friends or do anything.

I’ve done Zoom birthday dinners, and Zoom family dinners, and Zoom family birthday dinners, and a Zoom wedding. I had a video call with my friend Alex Paknadel yesterday where he pointed out the bizarre existential surreality of effectively being as far away from me as his mother-in-law, five minutes down the road… Which got me thinking about my stepbrother, a few Brooklyn neighborhoods away, and my Dad and stepmom in Manhattan, but they’re no closer to me than my Mom and sister down in Miami. It’s a strange time.

I will say, this whole experience has not made me any fonder of video conferencing? I like to pace when I talk on the phone and I don’t like feeling quite so visible so constantly on group video calls. I think maybe it would be better if it didn’t show me to myself while I’m talking? I feel like I just stare at my own hideous face as it looks more and more nervous until the conversation ends.  I would still much, much rather just talk on the phone. But I do admit seeing other people is better psychologically? I’ll submit myself to the horrors of video conferencing technology a bit longer, but my eye starts twitching when people suggest that it’s going to continue when the world gets back to “normal.” I should probably just start becoming the “audio only” curmudgeon now before it gets too late.

Anyways, that’s what you’ve been missing out on. My very exciting opinions on video conferencing technologies. Aren’t you sad that I haven’t been churning these out every week? I think we’re all becoming a bit boring while we’re trapped inside. There’s a monotony to the world when you’re not really looking forward to things, because you don’t know when they’re coming, or what shape they’ll take. So I hope the fact that comic books are going to start coming back out is a comfort, and gives you cool shit to look forward to. It also means I’m going to have more stuff to show off to you…

So… I’ll get to the part where I talk about the comics you’re going to be able to start pick up and reading next month, but DID YOU KNOW there are a bunch of comics that exist in the world that you can read RIGHT NOW?!

Here, let me tell you about a few.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN READING, JAMES?

One of my favorite comic book things in the indoor life of the Coronavirus times has been #NTYCBD, which is “New To You Comic Book Day.” I made suggestions in my last newsletter of the different reasons you can hunt down comics while locked at home, but this sums it all up much more nicely. It’s basically a challenge to find and read comic books you haven’t read before, and prioritize them over your usual reads or rereads (particularly while the world is still shut down).

I think a lot of us have been catching up on the monstrous piles of comics that live in our house, and for me, I’ve been raiding my partner’s Bookshelf. Sam has always lived in the mythical borderlands between the mainstream direct market comics, and the indy world of zines, Fantagraphics, and Drawn & Quarterly. It’s a world I’ve explored a little bit in the past, but my reading list from that corner of comics had gotten pretty long, and I usually just picked up another Image trade when I was reading outside my usual pull-list. But I’ve been peppering these books in alongside the manga, and YA Book market comics, and direct market comics, and it’s been helping paint this incredibly beautiful large-scale picture of what this medium really is. And it has really reinforced how small a window I usually look at it through.

Honestly, the whole process has been creatively invigorating. I definitely plan on taking a big, big picture of my stack of books when the crisis is over, for my records, bragging rights, and for the sheer madness of reading them all in quick succession… But here’s just a little taste:

On A Sunbeam – Tillie Walden
Sabrina – Nick Drnaso
Hicksville – Dylan Horrocks
Goodnight Punpun – Inio Asano
From Hell – Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell

These five have been my favorites, none of which I had read before the world shut down. Each of them have wormed their way inside of my head and danced around in it. Reading these over the course of a few weeks made me want to stick my head out the window and shout “Did you know that ALL these things are comics?! DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU CAN DO IN A COMIC BOOK?!” Because holy fucking shit this medium is absolutely incredible in a way that makes me have to sit down reeling sometimes. There is no medium in the world I love more, and I am so fucking honored and inspired that I spend my life making them.

The most surprising book on that list that definitely sent my brain into a manic kind of overdrive was From Hell. I say it’s surprising, because it’s the book that’s the closest to the comic industry that we recognize over in the direct market. I deeply love Alan Moore, so I should have read it years ago. But for a long time I told myself I wanted to have a great Alan Moore comic tucked away for when I needed it. I’ve read the rest of his work, but I knew there would come a time that I would need to break the emergency glass and take it out and bask in its brilliance and revel in the creative powers it riled up in me.

So I read it, and it DID rile all those powers up, and got me into a two week manic frenzy that I’m only just starting to come out of.  Reading the comic led me to eBay where I finally did something I’d been considering for a long while, and bought every issue of the 1980s and early 90s horror anthology, Taboo, in which From Hell used to run as its own serialized story. You can read up on the trials and tribulations of that particular anthology magazine, and some of the lost stories inside (I’m more heartbroken than ever at the unrealized Neil Gaiman/Michael Zulli Sweeney Todd that only exists as a prologue), but honestly, I was profoundly inspired more than anything else.

A lot of what inspired me is the intersection of Eddie Campbell and Alan Moore, who feel like they would exist in two wholly separate comic book industries if they had come up together in the modern day. It would be like if Jeff Lemire and Adrian Tomine came together and wrote a giant true crime masterpiece, only to go back into their separate camps when it was all over. There’s something just inherently special about the fact that book exists, and it feels like it was only possible because there was this weird period in the late 80s and early 90s when there were no walls between the different corners of comics, and everything was inspiring everyone.

Focusing on that moment of time and the books it created really points to this weird missing leg in the table of the comics medium in the present day. This middle ground that used to exist between the world around superhero comics (and the creator owned titles that are closer to Superheroes in tone than anything else), and the arthouse indy comix with an x.  In the 80s and early 90s, it was the black and white self-published books. Taboo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Cerebus, Bone, Strangers in Paradise, Stray Bullets, and a whole lot more. They were making commercial content, more directly applicable and influential to the superhero comics that dominated comic shops, so it opened those conversations, but the self-published lo-fi aspect of them kept them in conversation with the weirder underground alt comics, and helped all those worlds stay in touch with each other, and inspire each other. Down to the fact that one of the predecessor stories to Charles Burns’ Black Hole can be read in the first issue of Taboo.

These were comics made from sheer force of will, not because they were commissioned or sanctioned by a publisher. There is always something special about the purity of expression in a project like that. Comics that were meant to be comics, that people were going to fight to get on shelves by any means necessary. Now, there’s a bit of undue romance in looking at all of them, and I recognize that. I wasn’t there to see the failures of that system, only the books that survived to the modern day.

But fuck it. I DO love the romantic vision of that era, and I DO wish that there weren’t these giant walls between the different corners of comics, where every community is functionally insular. Where mainstream superhero creators aren’t reading Manga, or Webcomics, or Indy Comics, or YA book market comics, and so on… Where the luminaries of different corners of the field are only vaguely aware of each other, if at all. And maybe that’s always been the case, and it’s probably the same in film and television and drama and art and prose, but I do dream of the kind of comics that would be born from a true interplay of ideas from the greatest comic book minds.

How many more From Hells could we find in the borderlands?

This has all been a giant mash of words to say that comics is so much fucking bigger than I tend to think it is. I get caught up in my immediate surroundings, and comfort myself with the little I do know about comics. I need to do better to remind myself that there are so many phenomenal stories told in this form, and I need to keep reading them to keep my love of the medium alive.

Comics are so fucking good, and so fucking vibrant and alive, and they will never die. There are enough comics to keep reading and exploring them for a lifetime… I think we all have our preferences, and we all have the sorts of stories we know we love to read, but there’s a real magic when you check out something you don’t know if you’re going to respond to, and then it hits you from an angle you never expected.

Direct market comic books are coming back. All your favorites will start making their way back to shelves. Depending on what State you’re in, you’ll be able to pick them up in person, or by curbside, or by mail order. We’re all excited for our favorites to come back. But I hope that the spirit of #NTYCBD stays alive in the new world. I’m going to try to keep living in it, for sure.

I still have a stack of books left to read, even bigger than the one I started with… And I add to it with every great book I read. I’m eager to wrap my work for the day and dig in. My weekends have been my big read-a-thons, and I’m looking to dive into more manga this weekend (including FINISHING Punpun, which I am admittedly only three volumes into).

I can’t wait to find more books that send my brain down more rabbit holes, and I can’t wait to see what all these comics do to my writing.

COMICS COMICS COMICS

Okay, so let’s get down to business. The Comic Book Machine has been reactivated and I have comics coming out again. Not just yet, but soon. That second week of June is going to be an absolute James Tynion IV juggernaut of a week… The DC Comics will be out on Tuesday, June 9th, and the Boom! books will be out on Wednesday, June 10th. Let me give you the full rundown…

The first out of the gate is going to be the JOKER: 80TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL, which has its FOC on Monday. This is going to feature a story that reveals Punchline’s secret origin (spoilers: she is an original character, and wasn’t any of the older characters you’ve been tweeting at me asking if she is). Mikel Janin drew the story, and did a fucking phenomenal job, and I am very very excited for you to read it. This whole book is going to be something twisted and special, and highlight the greatest villain in all of comic bookery.

The next on the docket is BATMAN #92, which I know folks have been waiting for FOR A WHILE. It’s new FOC is coming up, but just to remind you why you all were so excited about it the last time around. This issue is drawn by the incredible Guillem March, and features Punchline meeting Harley Quinn for the first time. It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for as Punchline moves from a character cameoing in the background of Batman and Hell Arisen, and joins the main cast of the book, in the lead-up to Joker war. This issue also features two variant covers… One of them is the knock-out amazing Artgerm cardstock variant… And the other is the Jorge Jimenez design variant, showing off the final design sheet Jorge did when we were creating Punchline. When these were up for FOC last time around the design variant was catching lots of people’s attention, so I think we’re going to line up some more. Stay tuned!

Now, on TOP of all that fun, Erica Slaughter is coming back to town in SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #7. I’m really happy and excited that a bunch of people seem to have been picking up the first trade of the book while we’ve been under quarantine, and I hope you stick with the title as we head deeper into the second arc. This comic has become something more wildly and deeply personal than I ever imagined it being, and I am very, very excited for you to see what we’ve been building while the world’s been shut down. There’s the main cover for issue #7 by Werther Dell’Edera, and a stunning variant by Pretty Deadly’s Emma Rios.

Speaking of that first volume… Okay, so right now, there is a special SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN Volume 1, with the Jenny Frison cover, available exclusively in the direct market in what Boom! Studios calls their “Discover Now” variant. It’s a beautiful, beautiful book. And this is your last chance to get it. For those of you unfamiliar with the “Discover Now” program, it’s a limited release cover that ultimately gets replaced by the mass market version… And that’s coming in early June, right in time for the series to return to shelves. So if you want to get the Jenny Frison cover to the first trade, now is the time to reach out to your comic shop and tell them you want it. Otherwise, we’ll be sticking with the also-stunning Werther cover as the series becomes available in bookstores and comic shops!

THE CHOICE IS YOURS! But let your Local Comic Shop know which of these you’re going to want to buy! I know the whole pre-ordering side of comics has always been a little wonky, but I do think retailers are eager to know that fans still want these books. So let your LCS know that you’re interested and you’re still going to want to pick all these bad boys up, and find out how best to get them into your hands, based on when your state is reopening.

WHAT’S IN THE WINGS?

In next week’s newsletter, I’m going to dig into JOKER WAR, and I think I finally have the go-ahead to reveal the Clownhunter design, as DC releases revised solicits for July and August. I’m extra excited to brag about who we’ve got doing a Clownhunter short in one of the Joker War related issues later this summer. I’m ALSO going to be able to talk a bit more about my involvement in DEATH METAL, and its supporting material. I’ve been working on a LOT of super cool comics and I am excited to be able to talk about them and get them in your hands as the year goes on.

We’ve ALSO got some cool things coming up via Boom! Studios, that we’re doing in response to the Covid pandemic. I’m going to be promoting some cool stuff as the year goes on, so I am excited and eager to be able to announce all of these things as we move forward. One of those in particular, I’ve been hoping to make happen since the crisis started, and I know there’s a good demand for them. Speaking of demand, I’ve been having people reach out asking how to get comics signed or CGCed given the likelihood that there won’t be any more big conventions this year. I’m arranging some ways you’ll be able to participate in a private signing by mail, and I’ll be able to get you all of that information very soon.

Which is all to say that I better keep doing these newsletter, because there IS going to be a lot of news and announcements in the coming months.

WYND – Michael just finished the first volume, and we’re putting the final touches on it to lock the book this month and send it to the printer. I’m going to be gearing up the whole crazy machine to promote this thing as the year goes on, but for the moment, we’re still on track to release this November. I’m in the process of outlining the second volume, and am going to try to write it out in the next few months. In the meantime, I’ve been running pages from my previous series with Michael, THE WOODS, over on Twitter, and you can start here. I think I’m going to wind that down when my comics arrive back in shops on June 9th, but that’ll mean you can read the first three issues of The Woods for free on my twitter! If you dig them, I recommend asking your LCS for a copy of the first Yearbook Volume, collecting the first twelve issues!

PROJECT DALLAS – Martin Simmonds is hard at work on the second issue of my unannounced Creator owned title, and I’m starting work on the third script. I have a fully designed first issue on my laptop, and it’s the first published work to bear the Tiny Onion Logo, even if it doesn’t end up being the first thing RELEASED with that logo. I think issue 1 is gorgeous, and issue 2 has some of the most frightening sequences of anything I’ve written. Given the state of the world, I have no idea when this will be announced or released. Hopefully will have some discussions with its Publisher in the next month to help cement that. My hope is that it will make it out sometime later this year, but we’ll see if it sneaks into 2022. In any case, I’m keeping the project moving in the meantime.

PROJECT LAKEHOUSE – I have driven the artist of this project mad by asking him to design an impossible house that will feature in the book, and now I think he’s going to hunt me down and kill me. This will heighten the horror of the book, I’m sure. Gearing up to write the first issue now, and am very very excited about this title.

PROJECT NIGHTMARE – Okay, so I’m sure I’m not the only person who has somehow manifested a new project out of thin air in the middle of quarantine. This is a weird project, that I’m planning on releasing differently than my other books. Weirdly, that means it’s likely to be the first of my creator owned projects to end up in the world… Stay tuned. Lots more to come on this front.

HOUSEKEEPING

Okay. Now that there’s a steady flow of information to deliver, I’m going to try and get this up and going more regularly. If you want to drop me a line or ask a question that I might answer in a future newsletter, email me at TinyOnionStudios@gmail.com

James Tynion IV
Brooklyn, NY
5.8.20