What’s SHOOT THE MESSENGER?
Well, AICN COMICS: SHOOT THE MESSENGER is your weekly one stop shop for comic book -EWS. What’s comic book –EWS? Well, it’s our hodge podge of everything not reviews here at AICN Comics. Sure you can find out the @$$Holes’ critical opinions of your favorite books every Wednesday at AICN Comics. But here, you’ll find special reports such as previews, interviews, special features, and occasionally news gathered here from our online brethren at Newsarama, CBR, Wizard, etc. Sure those guys are the best at reporting news as it breaks. Click on the links for the original stories. This column cuts the crap to run down all the vital information for those of you who don’t follow it as it comes in, and serves it all up with that special ingredient of @$$y goodness.
Bug chat with Darren G. Davis & Chris Ward
about POLITICAL POWER: BARACK OBAMA
Hey folks, Ambush Bug here with the first of a pair of interviews this week. The folks at Bluewater Productions have been producing some pretty newsworthy comics of late. Their FEMALE FORCE line has garnered attention from mainstream press and as a follow-up, EIC Darren G. Davis responds with POLITICAL POWER: BARACK OBAMA #1, a bio comic on the president himself. Let’s see what Darren and writer Chris Ward have to say about the book.
AMBUSH BUG: Barack Obama has been in comics more than Superman himself these days. How is this comic going to differ from others out there on the shelves?CHRIS WARD (CW): Azim Akberali's painted artwork, without a doubt. Within the next couple of years, he's going to be in demand and I'll be glad to say I worked with him before he joined the ranks of comic pros with impossible last names--like Straczynski or Sienkiewicz or Millar--that fanboys and girls rattle off like they were second nature. Actually, If you were to name reasons to pick up this book, I'd be, like, dead last. "Most popular president in years, check. Hand-painted artwork by African wunderkind, check. Writing by ex-Wizard Magazine letter columnist? Eh, two outta three ain't bad."
I hope that my writing stands out from the pack and hits the right notes, but that's up to the reader to decide. I just tried to keep away from just dropping Fact Bombs about Obama into word balloons for 23 pages--If you want to read a Wikipedia page about Obama, you can do that online. My book has Ghost Abe Lincoln. Try finding THAT online. (note: please do not actually try, or you may prove me wrong and I'll have to come up with another rejoinder).
I didn't think my sometimes offbeat style would mesh with Azim's hyper-realistic art at first, but after seeing some of the pages I realized it makes it a much more entertaining piece of work. Here's a strange comparison: Christopher Walken is hilarious because he looks like the world's most humorless man, and is funnier because it’s unexpected and subversive. This is why Jim Carrey, a comedian trying to be a comedian, is not as funny as Christopher Walken. And this is now why I've come to realize I'd rather have beautiful, serious looking art accompany my writing than wacky cartoon art announcing to everyone what's coming down the line.
DARREN G. DAVIS (DGD): When I asked Chris to do this, we spoke about how we can make this book different from anything else that is out there. He took on the challenge and turned in a great script. Azim who has been doing covers for us asked to do this book and I was excited to see his work on sequentials.... His art is like Alex Ross which people will be amazed at the quality of the book.
BUG: Why do you think Obama, more so than any other president in history, is so popular in comics these days?CW: Because collecting money and loose change has replaced collecting Star Wars figures as the nation's most popular hobby. Lincoln had a famous saying: "What's right is not always popular, but what's popular can be exploited for mad cash." I personally think it's great. Do we need a comic book about Ash saving Obama? I guess not. Does it hurt anyone? Maybe Bruce Campbell disapproves, but who knows. Can you blame someone for trying to make a buck in this economy? I can't. But the book had still better be good enough to warrant 4 bucks. Readers won't fall for the same Obama hype over and over without a good product to back it up. Especially those who lived through the nineties.
With that said, I had no intention of phoning in a script or taking a free ride on the Obama comic cash-in train. I'm from Illinois, and was lucky enough to live in Springfield during Obama's presidential announcement at the Old State Capital building, and there seemed to be enough personal ties to tell a first-hand story that was unique from the other stuff out there. Plus, you'll learn what a Horseshoe Sandwich is, and how it relates to Barack. Now my Condoleezza Rice comic, that's a different story: I'm going to ride that woman's unstoppable wave of popularity all the way to the bank.
BUG: Do you have any idea if Obama, being a fan himself of comics, has read the book?CW: Well, even though the book doesn't come out until late August, I wouldn't put it past him to come to me in a dream, and ask me to read him the first draft. He's magical that way, our president. But I'm hoping the non-astral plane version of Obama will read the finished physical copy when it hits stands. I know Bluewater Productions heard from the Clinton camp when Hillary's book came out, requesting copies. I hope she enjoys my portrayal of her, being thrown into a padded ambulance by Nurse Abraham Lincoln (That will make sense in context).
Obama's already a comic book fan, so I can't imagine he won't be curious to check this out himself. And really, why wouldn't the most powerful man in the world be curious what an untested, large-nosed Midwesterner has to say about him in the funnybooks? I certainly can't think of a reason.
DGD: We do hope that the people that are the subjects appreciate what we are doing with these biographies. Sarah Palin signed a personal copy of the comic book for me. So I am guessing that she did not hate it, since she did that. I also took the phone call from Bill Clinton's people and almost choked when they said who it was. I was shocked that Clinton himself asked for a copy of the comic book. This is when we were sold out and I sent him my personal copy of the comic. We are still alive, so I am guessing they approved it. Sometimes I joke that our phones are tapped now, because of all the political comics we are doing.
BUG: Typically, these bio comics tend to be heavy on the dry discourse, but Bluewater's bio comics have tried their best to be entertaining as well as informative. Can you tell us how you go about choosing an angle to approach a certain bio comic to make it less snooze-inducing?CW: I was also turned off by the idea of biographical comics at first, having been burnt once by an ill-advised purchase of the DeForest Kelley bio comic (this actually exists). But after I read Neal Bailey's Hillary Clinton comic from Bluewater, I got an idea of how it could be done without being preachy or boring as hell. Hey, if Keith Giffen can make Blue Beetle an A-list character TWICE in his career, maybe some of these politicians have aspects about them people would find fun to read about.
I get a little leeway with Obama on avoiding the snooze-factor, because most everyone is already interested in him. His "origin story," if you will, captivated everyone from the beginning, and everyone pretty much knows The Gospel of Barack by heart. So my problem was avoiding the Obama Origin Overkill. You know whenever they re-launch a comic, or make a comic movie, and tell the same goddamned origin story about the goddamned Batman you've heard for 30+ years? I wanted to avoid that feeling.
So the challenge was telling Obama's story in an original way that was true to my own style. God knows why, but Darren Davis trusted me to take some chances with this one, and it all came together nicely. The fact that he put his potentially Top Selling Book in my hands is something I'm eternally grateful for, even if I question his sanity.
DGD: Whenever I talk to a writer about these books, I mention how we have to make them exciting to keep the readers turning the pages. The narrator is usually the place where we have a little freedom to have fun. We have used everything from a "cricket" to the "writer's likeness". These books also have to be respectful and accurate, so we do a lot of research to make sure we do not get sued!
BUG: In a few of my reviews of past political comics from your company, I commented on how fair your biographies have been. When a member of a specific political party is writing the book, he tries to deal with political bias in the story rather than just write a one-sided ad for the party. Was this a conscious decision by editorial to handle these biographies, highlighting the good and the bad, in this manner?CW: It wasn't only a conscious decision on Darren's part, but a really smart one. Especially with Obama: we could have made this book a feel-good love fest straight out of the MSNBC hopper and people probably would have bought it. But that leaves out the people who didn't vote for Obama, and this book's for them, too, if they are interested in the history of the whole thing. And the children. Let's not forget about the children. This is their book, also.
I'm pretty upfront with my feelings on Obama in this book, which is one of the reasons (besides my enormous ego) that I'm in the book as a narrator. When there's an opinion instead of a fact, you can attach it to my face instead of a disembodied, all-seeing/all-knowing narrator. And we've got a sources cited page in the back, which is sexier than a Frank Cho pin-up! So, on this book, I finally put my journalism degree to work--those muscles had long since atrophied at Wizard the very first time I ranked the 50 Hottest Sexy Women in Comic Book Movies Of All Time For The Month of July. For the record, it's Helen Slater.
DGD: We have to be unbiased in all of these. Even down to the choices of the subjects. We do not want people to know who Bluewater supports. We try to keep everything on an even playing field.
BUG: I've been seeing the name Bluewater coming up a lot on CNN, BET, FOX News, and other news and talk shows. Being a relatively new company, how has it been coping with all of this media attention in regards to your political comics?DGD: I have been in comics for the last 10 years and before that I worked in the entertainment industry. So the press has always been a big part of what I do. I have always understood the media. The first comic I did was the "10th Muse" and we had Rena Mero aka Sable from the WWE, we hired a PR firm to get us on "Entertainment Tonight", which led to the comic being #6 on the Diamond charts. But the difference is the main focus is on us and being on the other side is a little harder than I thought. Having a news van show up at your doorsteps at 8am unannounced is a little weird, especially when you wake up at 9am. Most of the press has been really positive while making for a good scrapbook. How many times can a person say they were interviewed by FOX NEWS's Greta Van Susteren. That was my 1st interview and I choked when she asked me something I was not ready for. People that know me know that I choked, but I do not think it was that obvious. I look back at the tape and laugh. Also how many times in my life can I say I was quoted in Dog's Life" magazine (for the Bo Obama comic). I do have two favorites, when Larry King help up the comic with Patty Davis and she slammed the book without knowing anything about it, then to turn around and show off her book with Michelle Obama on the cover. Larry King did nothing either. But I have a picture on my wall of him holding up the comic book. Also on "Live with Regis and Kelly", they talked about the comic and Regis asked Kelly if she would want to be one of the subjects and she gave a look at the camera and said yes. The press is not going to last forever, so we are really enjoying the time we have doing these things.
BUG: With all of this media attention going towards your political comics, are you planning on shifting more attention editorially towards them and pulling back on your other comic lines?DGD: We are still going to do our core books. I never thought my comic career would turn into just a biography company so I am making sure that we are being smart about what the Bluewater brand means. We just announced "Logan's Run" which is getting a lot of attention. The Shatner books will be an ongoing series as well as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS and LEGEND OF ISIS. We do have plans to launch new series, but in this economy we have to be careful of what we do. I am not a fan of soliciting books and having them canceled.
BUG: Hillary Clinton. Princess Diana. Barack Obama. Sarah Palin. Bo Obama. Colin Powell. Do you think you're going to ever run out of political figures to highlight in this series?DGD: Never! Cause we can always go backwards too and do biographies based on people in the past. Also everything changes so quick in the world, that there is always some to focus on. The "Female Force" series is one about strong women in society, so we are creating comics on Oprah and Barbara Walters. The "Political Power" line will only deal with people in politics and we have Ronald Reagan, Ted Kennedy, Al Gore and George W. Bush in the pipeline.
BUG: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Look for POLITICAL POWER in stores in August.
And now on to our second Q&@!
Bug chats with INCARNATE’s Nick Simmons!
Ambush Bug here again with our second interview of the day. Here’s a chat with Nick Simmons, son of Gene and writer of Radical Comics’ new INCARNATE series. INCARNATE is a story of supernatural action and it’s not shy to use the red stuff either. Radical Comics is releasing this new 3 issue series by Nick Simmons on August 5th starting off with a double sized first issue. Mr. Simmons was kind enough to answer a few questions about his new book.
NICK SIMMONS (NS): INCARNATE is about a boy named Mot. Mot is a boy who cannot die. Riddle him with bullets, burn him at the stake, douse him with napalm, hang him from the gallows…still, he will walk away.
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): OK, I had a chance to read the first issue of INCARNATE. Spooky stuff, but not shy on the action either. Can you tell us about the book?
Forever haunted by a mysterious doppelganger that no one else can see, Mot has wandered the world for centuries, searching for meaning and, perhaps, an end to his endless life. He is a Revenant—an immortal, ageless creature that has existed since time imemorial. Their origins are a mystery—they have been worshipped as gods, feared as monsters, and scorned as devils. But they have always been there, living in plain sight, in the bright altars and dark corners of every ancient civilization since the beginning of humanity. There has never been a force on this earth that has been able to give them the death that Mot, secretly, seeks.
Now, something is different. Now they are being hunted. A shadow organization known only as Sanctum has discovered a way to kill the Revenants, and is carrying out a secret genocide that spans the globe. Mot, his protégé Connor, and the rest of the Revenants now must decide how to ensure their place at the top of the food chain.
Mot finds himself smack in the middle of an escalating war between mortals and immortals, neither of which he identifies with. Will he choose a side? Or will he be labeled a traitor, and be hunted down not only by humans, but by creatures as invulnerable and merciless as he is?
BUG: Would you classify this book as straight-up horror, supernatural adventure, or what? Loved the RPG to the face bit, by the way…NS: Thanks, it just hit me one night. Badoom chish.
It's definitely not straight horror. I'd say it's action/supernatural/horror/drama.
BUG: The design of the revenants is pretty unique. Who’s idea was it to have the mouth on the hand thingee?NS: That's just the tip of the iceberg of their transformative capabilities. None of the Revenants have transformed into their "true" shapes quite yet, that's saved for the second and third issues. That idea was mine, though. Our amazingly talented cover artist Jo Chen based that off of a series of sketches I sent her.
BUG: The art seems to be heavily influenced by manga. Was this your intention from the beginning or was that an aspect that came about later?NS: I've always been influenced by manga, but it’s not a conscious choice, like "Ok I'm going to try to draw manga now." I simply have been reading manga since I was young, and it's the style I naturally draw in. I just find it so much more interesting than most American comic styles, it's all very well drawn but it lacks individual STYLE sometimes. That's the only reason I claim to have the chops to put out a comic--I may not have the incredible technical skill that some of these dedicated artists have, but I have a unique style I'm trying to get across, hopefully that will make INCARNATE stand out.
BUG: Can you talk a little more about the writer/artist relationship for INCARNATE? How did you guys work together?NS: Well, first of all, I am the writer AND the artist for INCARNATE, so I get along with myself just fine. My wonderful partner, Nam Kim, as well as everyone on his team, have been a tremendous blessing--the book would not look as good as it does without them, and I have wonderful relationship with them, for only one reason: They just seem to GET it. When I ramble on about my vision for a certain piece of architecture they're helping with, or some technical details of a gun, they just KNOW what I'm looking for, like they're inside my head. And they are very respectful, when inking my pencils, to stay true to my original lines, especially when it comes to the actual characters.
BUG: I have to mention the fact that your father is Gene Simmons, one of the founding members of KISS. What type of influences, aside from providing a crucial part of your genetic make-up, did this relationship have in creating INCARNATE?NS: Of course you have to mention that, it's the whole reason anyone gives a crap enough to read this interview, I have no illusions about that. His role was, basically, introducing me to Barry Levine, Radical Publishing's head honcho. We didn't do it with a goal in mind--Barry was over to discuss a separate deal with dad that has since fallen through, but he saw some of my drawings, saw potential in the characters, and we decided to work together.
BUG: After this miniseries, do you have any other plans for INCARNATE or anything else at Radical?NS: I plan to keep INCARNATE going as long as I can. I’ve never seen it as a limited series--it's a manga, and mangas are typically long-running and without foreseeable conclusion. I have an end in mind, but that's not going to come about for quite some time, certainly not within three issues. I'm going to continue making this thing, hopefully with Radical. Hell, even if nobody reads it, I'll probably still continue making it on my own as a webcomic. It's my passion and my characters are my children, I have to see it through to the end.
Consider this miniseries a brief introduction to the story, a prologue if you will.