The trouble with working on a million comic books at once is that there’s always something that needs doing, and I always think I’m going to be more productive on Sundays than I ever end up being.
Part of the justification of me starting this newsletter is that it’s a good warmup. It gets my mind flowing into the keyboard before I turn my attention more directly to work. So I am robbing my Monday morning warmup a night early so I can knock out the handful of important things I need to finish before I crash for the night. It’s getting dark so early, now. It’s hard not to feel like I’m running out of time.
Sam and I spent the last few days up in and around Buffalo, NY. Our primary destination was a wonderful comic shop named PULP 716 COFFEE & COMICS in Tonawanda. Pulp 716 was a big early supporter of Something is Killing the Children, and brought Katie Wolski, the first Erica Slaughter cosplayer, to my attention. Everyone was wonderful, and I can’t say enough good things about the store.
They also seduced me with the inimitable power of a cookie cake, which remains the quickest way to my heart.
You could feel the vibrant community in the store. It felt similar to what I found when I visited Third Eye Comics in Maryland for the first time. A store that acts as a hub for a community eager to participate. Folks wanting to pick up the latest interesting book to chat it over with the owners. The refrain I keep hearing at shops like this is “I had never read anything that wasn’t superheroes until the owner recommended _______.” People like being a part of something. People like checking out recommendations. These little geek culture hubs can pick up steam and audiences can grow. When I walked into the shop on Saturday they had stacks of the various covers of Something is Killing the Children #1, 2 and 3, and they had to keep restocking them. Folks were telling each other if they hadn’t checked it out to grab a copy and get back and line, and they did. It was really nice.
Honestly, there’s so much doom and gloom in the discourse surrounding the comics industry, particularly on Twitter. And I can get swept up in that apocalyptic thinking. But visiting a great shop in a small city nine hours from New York, with a phenomenal community like this, just makes me feel a bit more okay. I think there are structures within the comics industry that are breaking down a bit, and I worry about a glut of content from time to time… But there ARE readers out there, and they want to read comic books, and the right kind of store can get them really excited about it. The audience exists, they just need to be shown a comfortable, welcoming door into this community, and then we can make them fans for life.
I had a moment on Saturday where I just looked around at the young people in the shop and smiled, because I think we’re going to make it, even if there’s some weird peaks and valleys along the way. I hope there are a lot more Pulp 716s out there, growing in the weird corners of this weird country. I want to visit more of them and sign comic books there.
And a lesson to all you retailers out there - I take notice of the shops who are hustling to sell my books, particularly my independent titles, and I’d love to figure out how to sign at your shops and help you sell MORE of my books. Just let me know how.
UNDER THE HOLIDAYS
It’s been years since I haven’t had to travel in/around Thanksgiving, so it’s sneaking up on me.
I know, effectively, that this week ends on Tuesday, but don’t tell my deadlines that. In just a few days time all the obligations that I pushed back to figure out “over the holidays” will come back to bite my ass, coupled with a weird senioritis for the year… After all, if it’s not done by December 1st, couldn’t it wait until January? The answer is a firm no. I have five full scripts, at least one eight page short, and eighty pages of an OGN to write before 2020. One week from today I’ll be sitting on my couch opposite a Christmas Tree and it will feel like an entire geologic age has passed, and I will have hopefully knocked two of those scripts off my plate.
But first I need to make my first loaf of sourdough bread.
I started making bread earlier in the year, when I was in the midst of a rough time with work and life and was feeling stressed out pretty much every day from when I woke up to when I went to sleep. Having something deliberate to do, that took time and precision, that had a measurable finished product… It helped calm and focus me. Honestly, it’s a lot of what I miss about smoking. Needing to take a short break from whatever I’m working, where I just get to turn off and focus on something before I head back to work. Bread is my new Cigarettes. Hell, it’s probably more likely to kill me in the end…
BUT ANYWAYS. I’ve been putting off making a sourdough loaf because I wanted to actually start the sourdough from scratch without buying a starter… But my travel to Burbank and Buffalo last week pretty much made getting a sourdough loaf done by Thursday impossible. So I’ve caved and ordered a fresh starter from King Arthur Flour, which should arrive tomorrow. I’ll make a test loaf first, and then see what I can whip up for the family on Thursday. Thankfully I am not travelling.
Honestly, my favorite thing about baking bread is that I am not very good at it. It is my kind of boring hobby that genuinely delights and interests me, and I hope I get better at over time. But I’m not doing it to try and sell anything, or impress anyone. I’m not even really doing it for the bread at the end… I’m doing it because it’s a relaxing, fascinating process I want to learn more about.
Anyway. Hopefully I do not burn the bottom of the Thanksgiving loaf.
For like thirty seconds I had the intention of weighing in on the current piracy discourse bouncing around twitter in a bigger way, but really my feelings are pretty simple. I pirated books when I was in college and didn’t have spending money and once I had a job I started paying again. If you pirate, don’t like, brag to me and expect me to give you a high five? But, I don’t think piracy is even among the top 50 problems effecting the comic book industry.
I think it’s a strawman. People treat it as the big problem in and of itself, when it’s more a symptom of a lot of other, bigger problems.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that something like Webtoons, which is effectively the legit version of the most popular free comic sites, is the most popular legitimate digital comic book platform that exists. When I asked a 14 year old second cousin earlier in the year what comics she read that made her want to be a comic artist, she listed five Webtoons strips I had never heard of before. It’s because it’s a lot of content, easily accessible from a phone, that she doesn’t need a parent or a credit card to get at.
Okay, given that it’s only been a few days since my first newsletter, not much has changed on the Batman front. I am very excited to show off the next couple of covers when the next batch of solicits come out… The one exciting bit of news is that DC decided to sneak a coda into the end of Batman #85 that starts pointing at the big picture of what we’re doing with the title in 2020. Guillem March knocked out the pages, and they are drop dead gorgeous. I would drop them all right here, but then the powers that be might break in the windows of my office and steal my computer.
But I figured I could sneak a PANEL in here, to show you a bit of what Guillem and I are cooking.
I also thought I’d drop another part of my big crazy Batman document, the same I excerpted in the first newsletter. The first excerpt was a mission statement of sorts, this is a bit more focused on the world-building.
After the events of City of Bane, Gotham City is rebuilding.
That rebuilding should be part of the spirit of the city itself in 2020. There are strange metal spires and scaffolding jutting out into the air. There are spotlights all over the city, as construction continues 24 hours a day. The clangs of industrial jackhammers lend a new dark music to the city. Gotham feels like it’s in the midst of a metamorphosis, change is in the air. There are giant cranes and spotlights everywhere, the way it all juts into the sky it feels like a claustrophobic nightmare… You can’t tell where one building stops and another begins. A kind of eerie, industrial fog drifts through the city at all hours. The skies of Gotham are a dark, eerie red. It always feels like night-time. The city itself should be juxtapositions of strange Art-Deco insanity by way of Anton Furst and Tim Burton, and sleek modern towers that somehow look MORE frightening. Strange high tech skyscraper cathedrals, complete with sleek modern gargoyles.
It’s a new industrial age in the city, and people are walking around covering their mouths to not breathe in the smog. Construction dust falls like snow around the city. It’s a strange and isolating place. Weirdly, I’d think of the people of Gotham City as “under construction” in their own way. I’ll be calling this out in the scripts, but I see more people with casts and leg braces. People damaged, but trying to heal. Even the way people wrap their faces to move through the streets is a kind of “bandaging”.
The Police have also been upgraded to something more ever-present and frightening. They are wearing SWAT style armor and carrying military grade assault weapons. Their faces are covered by swat helmets, and their cars are armored and plated. Detectives are still operating in plainclothes, but they look like odd men out and feel pushed out by the new generation of officers on the streets who want to wield the heavy GCPD gear and the power it represents. These cops are meant to instill order, but they feel like the harbinger of a darker future around the corner. Jim Gordon is no longer Police Commissioner. Instead we have HARVEY BULLOCK operating as an overworked, overstressed political appointee. He’s unnerved by the changing police force around him, but is powerless to stop it.
Gotham is not New York City. It is a nightmare of New York City. It shouldn’t feel like a real city, it should feel like GOTHAM. It’s the grime and grit of the 1970s and 80s in a world where the city never got cleaned up, but kept growing. Now it needs to become something new… But the eerie sense needs to be that it might become something even more horrifying than before. We’re creating a present day dystopia that will serve as the bridge to what’s next. Every element of it should be visually dynamic and exciting.
I’ve never really understood the point of making Gotham City “realistic.” It’s not a real city, and it could never function as a real city. The city is always a mirror of however the creator of the day is handling the character. And like I said last week, the book is going to be an Action Horror title, so I need it to take place in an Action Horror city. Gotham is at its best when it’s larger than life, and just wait until you see the incredible cityscapes Tony and Guillem have already set down in inks.
I’ve already chosen my pitch excerpt for NEXT week’s entry… So let’s see how long I can keep this up without running out of content.
THIS WEEK IN STORES
I have two books out from DC Comics this week.
Tales of the Dark Multiverse: Infinite Crisis #1
Pencils - Aaron Lopresti
Inks - Matt Ryan
Colors - Romulo Fajardo, Jr
Letters - Rob Leigh
Editors - Alex Antone & Dave Wielgosz
This is the most fucked up love letter I have ever written. I was in High School when Infinite Crisis came out, and from Countdown to Infinite Crisis, through the miniseries, to the main event… There’s probably nothing that did more to make me a weekly DC Comics reader. I devoured all of it. I go back and reread chunks of it every year. You can see nods to it in the work I did on Detective Comics, and more notably now on the larger event cycle we’re in with Justice League and Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen. So, when Alex & Dave reached out to me about contributing to a new series of Dark Multiverse specials, along the lines of what I had done with The Grim Knight and The Batman Who Laughs, and they mentioned that Infinite Crisis was on the table? I had to say yes. Even if my schedule was a total nightmare and taking on the script for a 48 page comic was a terrible, terrible idea. As established by the newsletter itself, I love terrible ideas for my work schedule.
I’m really proud of this book. It’s dense. I’m not just adapting the original Infinite Crisis event, I’m adapting the event and the lead-up to the event (because they’re all really part of one big story). It’s a Twilight Zone-esque play on continuity, where Blue Beetle kills Max Lord instead of the other way around. I was very very happy to play in this playground of my adolescence and use the fact that we’re in the Dark Multiverse to break all the toys, one by one. Hopefully, it’s still enjoyable if you’ve never read the original, but it’s definitely designed for fans of the original stories.
Aaron, Matt and Romulo did absolutely stunning work on this one. It feels like a book of that era. Just remember… This is a twisted nightmare of the Dark Multiverse. Don’t pick it up expecting happy endings.
Justice League Dark #17
Art - Javi Fernandez
Colors - John Kalisz
Letters - Rob Leigh
Editor - Brittany Holzherr
I do love a cover gimmick. I know there’s a lot of hate for them, or at least there was when I was coming up because they felt like a throwback to the collapse of the comics market back in the 90s… But there’s always something a bit special about them. My most prized comic possession of my young life was the foil X-Men: Alpha that started the Age of Apocalypse. I still love the Death of the Family covers from the early New 52 with the cardboard faces. So I think these look neat, and I hope fans like them. I just signed my first one over the weekend, and they don’t seem like they’re too glossy to hold a sharpie.
This issue tells the origin of Circe in current DC Continuity. It’s been in my head for a while and I’m excited to put it on paper. It also has some beautiful Javi Fernandez art, with him filling in for Alvaro Martinez. This arc is going to end with a few major pieces changed in the DC Magical Universe, and set the stage for the big Parliaments of Life arc that Ram V is coming on board to write. So… Keep reading. Good shit coming up.
FINAL ORDER CUT-OFF
Today is the FOC for Batman #85 and Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen #1. The first ends Tom King’s Batman run and starts mine, and the press release already spoiled that it’s got a bit of Joker in it, so if you like Joker, and you’ve fallen off the wagon a bit in Gotham, you might want to check out to see Tom’s farewell and my bloody bloody hello.
Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen is a bigger book than I think folks realize just yet, but as it runs, you’re going to see what its pointing to, and that’s going to be very exciting. Steve Epting is doing an incredible job, and I’ll be promoting the heck out of it as we get closer to December 18th.
I should probably keep these shorter, but I also probably won’t do that. I’ll keep making them longer until they are such an inconvenience to write that I don’t want to do it. I’ll do that because I am deranged and need to be stopped.
Okay. Back to the writing they actually pay me to do before the editors show up at my door with those big nets again.
James Tynion IV