17: Ghost-Makers, Killboys, and Pins. Oh My!

How are you all doing? Are you holding up okay?

The world still feels like it’s on fire, and even the nice tweets feel angry these days. I’m sorry I haven’t been more regular with these newsletters. I feel like every week there’s a reason to put it off. When things in the world get a little too serious, it starts to feel inappropriate to bang the drum and try to get you all to buy my comics. Other weeks, I’ve just been buried in work. Not just all my scripts for the eleventy billion comics I’m writing a month, but all the administrative work that comes with being the proud comic father of a new Image Comic… (Here’s a sneak peak at the cover for #3, by Martin Simmonds)

I remember, years back, being at a hotel bar after a convention, and John Layman was explaining his strategy for trade paperback and hardcover releases for Chew. He had a whole system in place, and I remember it being a deeply fascinating system, but honestly, the reason it has always stuck with me is that he had control over every step of the process in a way that I absolutely did not at either DC or Boom! Studios. It was the first time that I remember understanding what it meant when people say that doing an Image book is like running your own business. The first time I got jealous of the freedom to really experiment and make a book what you want it to be.

But that moment of understanding doesn’t compare to experiencing the real thing. Now that I’m gearing up for the release of DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH in late September, I’m getting a crash course in running my own comic book business. It’s a LOT of work. There are seemingly infinite design decisions that need to be made, advertisements, variant covers, variant cover design decisions, paper stock decisions, elements of the first Trade Paperback design that need to be locked before the first issue comes out… And there’s the fact that I’ve already promised that this book is coming out monthly, so we’ve been working to pull together a truly killer line-up of artists in between the first and second arcs with Martin. There’s a whole tier of discussions already happening in regard to media rights. There’s keeping everyone paid, and happy, and that’s beyond just sitting down to write the dang thing.

It’s a beast of a book. One of the trickiest I’ve ever written, partly because of the subject matter, and partly because of the format. I want every single issue to work as a standalone short story in and of itself, each with a focus on a different conspiracy theory, while also building out the world and characters, and furthering the main story. It means that every issue has been a different kind of experiment, which is both exciting and daunting. Martin is working on the final art for Issue #3 right now, and is posting a bunch of process pieces on his Twitter, and Instagram. You should follow him!

I also made the decision to start merchandising the book before release. Another experiment. Thanks to all of you, I managed to completely sell out of my first printing of 100 pins just from the last newsletter, with me only having to go to twitter to sell the last 10! They are making their way into the hands of happy customers as we speak, and I have a second batch of 500 pins already being whipped up by the kind people at Galaxy Design Squad. Next week I’m going to be launching a webstore, and you’ll be able to purchase them for $10 a pop. I’m starting to look into a limited run of t-shirts, too, before the launch of the book… The in-universe logo of Department of Truth by Dylan Todd is so freaking cool, I just want to stamp it on a million things.

There is something really soothing about mailing these pins out. I’ve been doing it all in the most lo-fi way you could imagine. People have been emailing me at the dedicated email for the book, I’ve been having them paypal me the cost plus shipping, plugging all their info into a spreadsheet, and then fenagling with Stamps.com to get the shipping labels printed. It’s intensive work that isn’t taxing on the creative centers of my brain… It scratches the same itch as putting together a complicated Lego set, or reorganizing my bookshelves. I’m interested in seeing how the process changes with a webstore, and starting to experiment with what kind of merchandise people would want to buy out of a webstore.

RETAILERS – If you’re interested in putting in a bulk order of 5 pins or more at a discounted rate of $5/pin, email me at DepartmentOfTruthComic@gmail.com. And in general, if there’s anything I can do to help you sell copies of this comic book, please drop me a line and let me know. I’ve been getting wind of some of the phenomenal Retailer Variants cooking for the book, and I do think they’d all pair nicely with some pins… This next batch is the only one I think I can reasonably guarantee will get to your shops before the launch of the book. So get your orders in now.

FANS – Stay tuned to my twitter and this newsletter for the launch of the Tiny Onion Studios webstore next week. You might find more than pins there…

The key word across the board is experimentation. I want to know what works, and what doesn’t, and I want to know that for myself. It’s exciting! The world is so fucked right now, that it’s nice to get excited about something.

I want to know every aspect of this industry, so I can best shape my future in it. And I’ve been thinking about the future a lot lately. I have to imagine a lot of us are. There’s a real sense that the comic book industry of tomorrow might not look like the one we have today. It’s not going anywhere, but it feels like the poles have shifted. The Book Market is dominating the field, with all-ages and young adult content. The direct market is struggling, but isn’t going down without a fight. The upside is that the Book Market is training a massive generation of readers to read comics at a young age. Those readers are going to grow up, and they are going to want to read comics. How can we best prepare for them?

I think there’s a part of me that recognizes that getting the Batman gig meant that I should have dialed down some of my creator-owned work… I have plans in Gotham City for the next year or so… Those plans would pay my rent and then some. But as the Radioactive Bat that bit Batman told him, with great power comes great responsibility. I have the privilege of writing one of, if not the biggest monthly comic book series in the business. It’s a spotlight that comes with tremendous pressure, and a spectacular amount of internal politics, and what have you. I could spend my every day managing that book. But when I’m done, when my moment in the spotlight is over, however long that is from now… What would I have that’s mine? I’ll have partial equity in a few cool new characters, and hopefully a long tail of royalties on some top-selling comics in trade… But nothing I can own, or leverage, or sell to keep me going ten, twenty years from now.

But a project like Department of Truth? I’ll still own that with Martin. Wynd and Something is Killing the Children? It’s a different rights deal, but I own a big chunk of each of them. I feel a responsibility to take this moment and make it count. Make the most of my spotlight, and build something that can last, something that allows me to keep telling the stories I want to tell, without needing anyone’s permission or approval. This newsletter is all a part of that. Every move I’ve made in 2020 has been part of my growing, changing master plan. And it’s all about TRYING stuff. Wynd ended up being three experiments in one. First, writing an OGN, second, turning an OGN into single issues, and third, releasing a monthly title with 48 page issues.

I think in a moment of profound change, and this IS a moment of profound change even if what things will change into isn’t obvious, is a moment to check your internal compass. To ask why you’re doing the things you’re doing, and ask where you want to head next. I want to make comic books. I want to spend my entire life making comic books. I want to make weird books, and small books, and big books, and squeeze all of these weird ideas out of my head onto paper, with a bunch of artists I love. Part of my goal for 2020 was to learn the ropes. To understand the publishing machines that this industry operates them, so I could learn to pull the levers on that machine myself. Originally, that was just through Department of Truth, my Image book.

But something strange started coming together in the first few weeks of quarantine. A pet project that wouldn’t have been possible if I had been on my usual convention schedule, travelling the world. Something to make up for the fact that there are a bunch of creators I know and love who I won’t get to see this year.  

Which is all to say that on top of my Image book, I’m also going to start fully self-publishing a comic book that will launch next week.

The first book wholly published by TINY ONION STUDIOS.

This is the book I have previously referred to as PROJECT NIGHTMARE. I’m not going to hint much at it just yet, but it, in and of itself is an experiment. It’s me learning the ropes and seeing what’s possible in the comic book form, and checking to see the size of an audience that may or may not exist. I’m looking at the cover of it now, and it makes me so fucking happy. It’s my weird little baby, and I’ll get to introduce it to you next week.

Here, speaking of weird babies, I’ll introduce you to one of the denizens of Project Nightmare.

His name is KILLBOY, and I cooked him up with Ricardo Lopez Ortiz. You’ll meet him next week, alongside a whole bunch of other little horrors. I keep referring to him as “Your Friendly Neighborhood Serial Killer.”

And that’s where my compass points.

Trying shit out. Seeing what works. Seeing what I can get away with. The same month I’m launching the biggest comic book event I’ve ever written at DC Comics, I’m self-funding my own little publishing experiment with some of my pals that we’re going to sell to you on computers, and I’m going to be packing and shipping them to you from my desk at home.

And that’s exciting to me. That’s how I’m staying sane in a burning world. I’m going to keep making weird stuff as long as you folks want to buy it off me.

So… Please buy my weird stuff!

BATMANNERY

JOKER WAR started this week. And people like it! Hooray! That’s always a massive relief. The best and worst thing about working on this arc is that we’ve been working ahead for MONTHS now. Jorge is almost done with Issue 100. The upside, is being able to look at the whole thing and tighten the screws to make it the best it can be. The downside is working in a vacuum, not being able to hear what people are connecting to while we work.

But I’ve been feeling good about this one.

In this issue, we also finally got the first in comic appearance of Punchline where she’s drawn by her co-creator, Jorge Jimenez! I love the personality he gives her. And we’re only getting started… Just wait until she gets her rematch with Harley Quinn in a few issues. Jorge knocked it out of the PARK. He knocks every issue out of the park.

I really think you can see a whole new generation of superhero art coming into fashion, that takes a lot of influence from Manga and Anime without mimicking it, while feeling very classic superhero as well. There’s a great dynamism to all of that art, and it makes me want to write deeply exciting comic books to match its dynamism. Jorge embodies all of that, and there’s a youth and vibrancy to his work that’s just unmatched. He, alongside Tomeu Morey, are doing the work of their lives on this story, and it is absolutely drop dead gorgeous.

Next issue, you all get to meet Clownhunter. He is my other weird baby, and I love him. The above is the Derrick Chew variant of Batman 99, and it looks SO COOL! There’s going to be a lot of Clownhunter stories between now and the end of the year, so I hope you all love him as much as I do. The story in Joker War Zone that I got to write for James Stokoe is a particular favorite of mine, and starts to reveal more about who this kid is until his mask. Clownhunter isn’t a bat-family member, he’s a teenager who’s grown sick as hell of a city that keeps letting the Joker attack again and again and again. He’s decided to solve the clown problem in a more permanent way. He has a history with clowns, and absolutely hates them. You won’t learn that full history for a little while yet, but it’s coming.

I also talked a bit about Ghost-Maker in a few interviews I did for Joker War. He’s got a brief cameo appearance in 100, before he comes into play in a big way with the story arc that starts with 102. I am very excited about this character. There’s a big part of me that just wants to drop the design of the character into this newsletter, but I think DC PR would send its ninjas to come decapitate me in the night. You’ll see it a bit closer to the . There’s a lot to say about him, but the core concept has been sitting with me for a long, long time. This character is Batman’s teenage rival. When they were both young men, they were going around to the greatest crimefighters in the world to learn their craft. Ghost-Maker thought Batman was a spoiled rich kid with childish views of right and wrong. He still thinks that. They’ve had an uneasy truce for years to not interfere with each other, but after Joker War? Ghost-Maker thinks its time for Gotham City to have a new hero.

Seriously, I can’t wait for you to meet him.

Now, does this all tie into what I was playing with in regard to The Designer and Cassander Wycliffe Baker from These Dark Designs? Absolutely, it does!! Everything matters!

The other thing I let slip in one of those interviews is that I’m going to be bringing back Harper Row, Bluebird, in a project I can’t talk about directly yet. She and her brother Cullen serve as a perfect mirror to the sort of work I’m looking to do. Joker War is designed to change Gotham City, and I need more characters in hand that serve as the voice of the “man on the street.” Another character I’m excited to be giving more play is Leslie Thompkins.

Anways. I’m excited. We’ve got plans. That’s the thing about you all meeting these new characters. I’ve already co-written a oversized one-shot about one of them, written an annual for another, and we’re pitching something in the digital space for a third… And that’s not counting the plans for the characters in 2021. We’re making big crazy plans. I made these toys to play with them, and I am very, very excited to play with them! Now I want people to make actual toys and statues of them so I can ACTUALLY play with them!

This is where the experimenting I was talking about in my independent work pays off in my Batman work. There are so many Batman stories out there, in every medium you can imagine, I want to make sure the main Batman title is a book telling stories you literally CAN’T get in any other medium. These new characters are a big part of that. You’re only going to get them here.

But that’s what comes AFTER Joker War. We still have a whole war to go! Stay tuned.

COMIC CONS AT HOME

In another universe, I’m writing this newsletter from a hotel room in San Diego. Or more realistically, I’m trying to run from one end of the convention center to the other to try and make a signing or press in time, having just wrapped a big panel. It’s been very strange to pass every convention milestone this year, but this is the strangest. I recorded some segments for their at home video panels, but I honestly don’t really know how you’re supposed to watch them, or from where. Hopefully I said good things that make you want to buy comics!

Another part of me is bummed because I finally have comics that I want to go hunt down in the back-issue bins. I’ve been getting more and more obsessed with the self-published comics of the 80s and 90s, and pretty much everything that Tundra Publishing touched in their brief and storied lifetime. I’ve also been buying Comics Journal issues from that time off of ebay, reading those incredible longform interviews. I spent hours the other day pouring through the incredible interview with Bissette from Comics Journal #185, and then promptly went back to ebay and ordered every issue of Tyrant. I’m slowly radicalizing myself by reading more and more articles about the power and follies of self-publishing from that era. Obviously this has a lot to do with what I was talking about at the top of the newsletter… But it’s also just been fulfilling a certain hole in my summer. Part of the joy of this industry is being able to talk about what comics are and what they should be with my closest friends in the business over some cold beers at the end of a long convention day. Now I’m spending my San Diego Comic Con with some of my creative idols, reading incredible interviews with them when they were young and angry, and it’s honestly thrilling. There’s a corporate smoothness to so much comic press these days, and it’s amazing to hear all of these creators at the top of their game willing to talk shit and get into the dirty corners of the business.

Now that I’m going to my office again, I need to start listening through the amazing interviews they’re running on Cartoonist Kayfabe, too. It feels like those guys are tapped into an excitement for the exact same era of comics as I am, and I want to hear everything they have to say. I think that the big voices of the 80s and 90s actually have a lot more bearing on the industry we’re going to be living with in the 2020s than the big voices of the 00s, and 10s. There was a whole generation of creator that managed to reactivate and cultivate the audience after the crash of the direct market in the mid-late 90s, but now we’re on the last legs of that movement, and we need to look back further to the people who set out and made their own spaces. I’m less interested in the folks who thrived at the big companies that still exist today, I’m interested in the people who BUILT those companies from scratch. I am so hungry for stories of the people who set out to make cool shit and pulled it off, or the ones who tried and failed miserably. I think what comes next is going to come out of experimenting, and fucking around, and making cool shit.

Or maybe it won’t, but at least we’ll have made some cool shit, and I think making cool shit is the lifeblood of comics.

Anyways… Tomorrow, Something is Killing the Children is up for an Eisner Award. It’s up against some really incredible books. Obviously, I am a human being and feel competition, and very much would like to win. But it’s gratifying just to get the nomination. Even more than Batman, SIKTC is the start of this phase of my writing career. It was the harbinger of my new storytelling priorities, and even the way I’ve started writing my comics. There’s some real power to the book, a kind of magic that I sit back at in awe a lot of the time, because as much as I created it and wrote it, it’s a book that really shaped and wrote itself. I’ve talked a lot about how the book changed radically in the journey from the pitch to the page. Erica Slaughter is the character that taught me the hunger for new characters, and she led to the creation of Punchline, of Clownhunter, of Killboy, of The Fictional Woman… And more characters I can’t even name yet.


This week has been a really big Something is Killing the Children week on a few fronts. For one, I found out that the book has been rising in sales every issue for the last three issues (The above image is the incredible Variant for SIKTC #8). Which is pretty freaking cool. Please keep buying my comic books! I will love you forever if you keep buying my comic books. The other reasons it’s been a big SIKTC are reasons I can’t disclose yet, but there are some very, very exciting conversations happening. But keep your fingers crossed for me tomorrow night. I’ll be watching the Eisner stream once I figure out exactly how I’m supposed to do that.

Also: People keep asking me whether SIKTC Masks are going to go on sale soon. While they won’t be on my webstore next week, I CAN tell you that they ARE coming. Stay tuned.

HOUSEKEEPING

That’s all really. I read a BOOK BOOK with WORDS in it the other week. THE ELEMENTALS by Michael McDowell, which has been recommended to me by a whole army of friends for literal years. I absolutely loved it. I might try to keep up my prose reading before I accidentally burn myself out on reading comics. I also need to catch up on my superhero books again, now that they’ve been coming out regularly for a while now… Need to get on top of all my X-Books so I can devour every page of X OF SWORDS this fall.

WYND #2 also came out this week, and you were also all incredibly kind to it! It’s another book that continues to outperform, and I believe that #2 may already be sold out. Next time around, I’ll do a big roundup of all the amazing variants for the book, because they are beautiful and I want to show them off. But thank you for all your kind words and thoughts.

Anyways. I hope you’re well. More to come next week.

James Tynion IV
Brooklyn, NY
7.23.20