INTERVIEW: Marie Javins on Super-Geekdom and Compassion in IRON MAN: EXTREMIS

Reading Marie Javins new IRON MAN: EXTREMIS prose novel, released April 16th, on my iPad, gave me an eerie moment of realizing how much had changed in the technological surface of our lives since Warren Ellis and Adi Granov released their Iron Man comic arc EXTREMIS in 2005 and 2006. Facebook was around then, but none of my close friends were using it yet, I purchased an extremely expensive iPod that weighed a ton, and it would be years before I read a comic in digital format. But EXTREMIS, as seems necessary for any really strong Iron Man story, was way ahead of its time. Then along came the first IRON MAN film in 2008, drawing in part upon EXTREMIS influences, though there are rumors that the EXTREMIS technology will play a much bigger role in IRON MAN 3. The version of Iron Man presented by the films has become the most well known version of the character, and that means that harmonizing earlier storylines with the mega personality that Tony Stark has now become (as befitting his fictional stature) is a desirable thing, and one that can make the breadth of comics history for the character more accessible for those who are relative newcomers.

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Marie Javins an inspirational figure in the comics world and well beyond, first as an editor and colorist at Marvel for over 13 years, then fearless world traveler sharing her poignant experiences through blogging and authoring books. Add to that her editing work overseeing the groundbreaking series THE 99, featuring Islamic culture and religion in the super hero genre. And yet, there’s still more: Javins has also taught coloring at the New York School of Visual Arts and you’ll often hear first hand from her students in the New York comics community what an impact she’s had on their work. How many countries has she lived in? I’m not sure my attempt at counting has been accurate, but you get the big picture. Javins’ life has been extraordinary so far both on and off the page, and so when she was asked to reimagine Tony Stark’s relationship to EXTREMIS technology and terrorist storylines as a prose novel, she brought an abnormal level of well-suited experience to bear on her project. For those familiar with Ellis’ EXTREMIS storyline, you’ll know that its rife with diverse global locations, implications about mineral mining and weapons trade in impoverished countries, and has to show the reader a Tony Stark at his worst and at his best.

Without giving away spoilers, since the novel has only been released for a little over a week, I can say that Javins is a masterful writer when it comes to convincing the reader of the sensory details of travel, of locations and their character, and even more adept at portraying characters in a psychologically realistic way. She does this without overloading the text, a virtue that truly experienced comics folks seem to have an instinct for when it comes to prose, and her dialogue is superb. In keeping with the harmonics she was tasked with developing between the original graphic novel and the film, the dialogue is as sharp, appealing, and funny as the films are known for, and are windows into character personality as well. Javins sticks to that very key element of “rationalization” when it comes to Stark’s personality, always circling around those gray areas that enable him to act while staving off a potential landslide of guilt over his past acts. She gets inside the “tabloid” Tony to remind us, as good Iron Man stories must, of his humanity and how essentially miserable he can be, and essentially determined as he has to be.

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You’ll believe in Javin’s portrayal of secondary and even relatively minor characters as much as you are convinced by Stark, and it seems like one of the reasons Javins accomplishes that so well is because of the sensory detail and human experience of her own travels and the compassion she’s felt for the cultures she’s experienced along the way. I highly recommend you check out IRON MAN: EXTREMIS for yourself, but hearing directly from Javins when interviewed about her project is bound to convince you more than I can:

Hannah Means-Shannon: What features of Tony Stark’s personality did you stick to as a guideline for your novel? What do you think are the most essential features of the character?

Marie Javins: Warren Ellis original IRON MAN: EXTREMIS six issues came out a few years before Marvel Studios captured the public imagination with the Iron Man we’re now all familiar with. The film version adapted material from EXTREMIS but also added original material and influences from pre-Extremis comic book runs.

My job was to write the Tony Stark the public now knows while still staying true to the original EXTREMIS series. We placed it in the time after the first IRON MAN movie, which altered two major points—one was Tony Stark’s public proclamation of his identity as Iron Man. The other was his romantic interest in Pepper Potts, which caused a wrinkle in the book’s tension between Tony and Maya Hansen. Fortunately, in my timeline, Tony and Pepper were not a thing yet. In Warren’s original story, she wasn’t in the issues at all—he’d put in a salty older secretary who turned out to be a lot of fun to write when I expanded on her original lines.

Tony Stark’s guilt over having manufactured weapons is key to the EXTREMIS story line and was adapted to the screen, as is his inherent genius, innovation, and snarky sense of humor. But his single-minded need to atone drives the modern Tony Stark.

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HM-S: Did you feel like you had to become a rocket scientist to discuss all of the technology in the story? Was this science boot-camp for you, or has this always been an interest of yours?

MJ: Hurricane Sandy hit us while I was writing this and ironically, I had to resort to longhand and propane for a chapter. But normally, I love tech and take apart old iPhones for fun and am always trying to convince people to let me do something risky to their expensive computer equipment (they usually refuse). That said, I’m in no way capable of writing genius-level dialogue between the world’s most innovative thinkers, and I want to avoid my tech references seeming outdated next year. I recently read a slightly older book where blogs had been treated as the future of information. Well, no one could have predicted Facebook or Twitter when that book was written, or how quickly personal blogs were rendered irrelevant once online interaction became so democratic. So I avoided having Tony Stark use tech that we currently consider innovative, like 3-D printers or apps. And I tried not to be too specific about what Stark was looking for in his inventions. He’s always got to be a step ahead of us everyday consumers. He’s considering inventing things we don’t even dream of.

Warren Ellis has always been versed in high-tech culture—at least he included plenty of Easter eggs about futurists and speculative tech in his original dialogue. I was still stumbling onto realizations about his original characters a month after I turned in the final draft.

HM-S: Why did you want to write a story about Iron Man? What kind of impact do you think the ideas behind Iron Man can have on society today?

MJ: It’s funny how disinterested I was in the older version of Iron Man—he just seemed like a rich jerk to me until Warren rebooted him and Robert Downey Jr. brought him to life, turning Stark’s flaws into humor and conflicted vulnerability.

Or maybe I just didn’t get it. Maybe I was too busy with my own editorial stable and coloring responsibilities to keep a close eye on Iron Man. Or maybe I couldn’t relate to a wealthy playboy superhero, but I can definitely get behind a kind of super-geek, a tech genius who loves inventing stylish gadgets and who is so self-absorbed you never know if he’s going to save the world or insult everyone in the room. The current incarnation of Iron Man in a way reflects our obsession with stylish tech and frequent upgrades. And there’s a timeliness to his search for sustainable, clean energy.

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HM-S: What was the most personal aspect of the story for you? Were there any themes you really wanted to include?

The EXTREMIS characters were complex and not simplistic. I tried to stick to that. Throughout the book, people believe they did what had to be done in spite of knowing they weren’t always on the right track. Rationalization is a constant. Tony Stark and the documentary producer interviewing him both rationalize. Dr. Aldrich Killian and Maya Hansen rationalize their actions. The bad guys rationalize. Everyone in the story thinks they are doing what has to be done. Well, everyone except Sal, the old tech-hippy who happily calls everyone out. Mallen, the bad guy, isn’t always inhuman and he switches back and forth between showing glints of humanity and being purely evil. It was important to not lose that complexity.

I tweaked Mallen and the personalities of his accomplices with characteristics of people I knew when I was a kid, and tried to add in minor atmospheric details from growing up in Virginia outside of Washington DC, where the final showdown occurs, and from the short time I lived in Austin, Texas, where Maya’s office is located.

HM-S: You’ve edited and colored a vast array of comics, and even written some. What about novels? Is this a new medium for you?

MJ: I’ve written four other books, but this is my first novel. Two are guidebooks, one is a children’s 3-D atlas and world tour, and the other is a personal travel narrative of my first trip overland from tip-to-tip of Africa.

I’ve contributed to several other books, magazines, sites, and maintained some mid-sized personal adventure blogs. My favorite stories to tell are autobiographical, about exploring other countries, continents, or the bits in between. I seem to get into a lot of scrapes in shared taxis or on broken buses in the middle of nowhere. Once, I was chased by a hippo. I was lucky to make it out of that one. This was a new medium for me, but the structure of creative non-fiction isn’t so different from a novel.

HM-S: How do you think writing a prose story about a superhero differs from writing about a superhero in comics? Are there any specific challenges that depend on the prose medium?

MJ: When I edited CIVIL WAR, the first Marvel prose novel in this series, writer Stuart Moore described the point-of-view problem to me. I thought I understood, but only when I was in deep with EXTREMIS did I know exactly what he had been talking about. In a comic, you can show character’s reactions and infer a great deal from an expression or physical stance. In a book, you have the POV of one character at a time—you can’t really tell what’s going on with other characters except as the character whose thoughts you’re privy to might interpret their actions. Also, action is easier as a visual panel. A writer might have to spend several paragraphs describing what an artist can convey in a single panel.

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HM-S: You’re known as a world traveler, often going well off the beaten path. Did travel inform your view of Iron Man mythology at all? Does Stark’s character have any global implications for you?

MJ: I want to avoid spoilers, but yes, my expeditions and life abroad definitely gave me flavor to add to Iron Man’s story, and not just because I’m sensitive to cultural stereotypes in villains.

People who follow my adventures online won’t be surprised to see robot camel jockeys in the prologue set in United Arab Emirates. My visit to the camel races was a highlight of the time I spent making comics in Kuwait in 2006.

And a 2011 conversation I’d had over a Fanta in a bar in Mila Mila, Republic of Congo, gave me an entire subplot. A local man had told me: “I know English because we learn it in school. We learn many things in school. Many Africans are fluent in English and French and are highly intellectual. But the problem is still that there are no jobs. You guys think we are stupid because we don’t have jobs, but we are educated too. The problem is there are just no jobs.”

That stuck with me, as did the hunger of two teenage boys I’d met the previous night in a Gabon/Congo border village. They’d politely and appreciably scarfed down some peanut butter I’d offered them (with bread and a titanium spork), and that played into a minor bit in the story too. I was traveling in parts of the world that give us all our tech minerals, but people are impoverished and desperate there. And all of this fit in with the guilt Warren had used as Stark’s driving force in EXTREMIS. “If there really were a Tony Stark”, I thought, “a man with a company that sources raw materials, a wealthy and brilliant man devoted to tech as a way to help regions impacted by past wars, what would he do?”

HM-S: What do you think about print versus digital format for comics? Do you think people will be reading holographic comics of IRON MAN in the future?

MJ: It’s like the old argument about “Do you like cats or dogs?” You can like both! The more people reading sequential stories in any format is good for all of us, and the ease of digital access brings in new readers. I understand the apprehension and uncertainty we are facing, but I’ve thought we were dead as an industry before and have been wrong. Comics seem to be relatively healthy with so many new outlets and individuals creating their own products. Of course, it’s hard to make a living right now, but that’s not comics-specific. All creative fields seem to be in a worrying state of transition.

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HM-S: Are there any other projects you have coming up or that you’re currently working on that you can tell us a little bit about?

MJ: After seven years, I’m finally winding down my involvement with the Kuwait series THE 99, as well as putting to bed a science fiction graphic novel called BINARY I packaged with my colleague Stuart Moore—both of these are available now or soon on ComiXology. Stuart and I also just finished writing the copy for ART OF IRON MAN 3 and soon we’re starting the next ART OF book for the upcoming THOR movie. I also have a weekly column on the UK’s WANDERLUST magazine website.

I’m still teaching coloring at New York’s School of Visual Arts and running Botfriend, the graphic novel packaging partnership Stuart and I own. But after being editor in chief of THE 99 for so many years, it’s amazing to me that I might have time to work on my own projects again. I’ve been planning my second travel narrative CURSE OF THE HIPPO since my last one, STALKING THE WILD DIK-DIK, came out. HIPPO is about my adventures living in Uganda and Namibia, then moving to Kuwait and Cairo to make comic books. And I went around the world by public transport for the second time in 2011, so that’s a third book right there. That should keep me busy for quite a while.

HMS: Javins redefines the idea of being busy, and always has, from her days working both a day and night job at Marvel editing and coloring, to placing herself at the heart of new experiences through travel, but it’s a lucky thing she was willing to take on the adaptation of IRON MAN: EXTREMIS to craft a new story, essentially, and one that adds substantially to Iron Man mythology. But it’s an addition that is very likely to remind you of why you cared about Iron Man stories in the first place, and why society is still responding to their relevance. And just to make things even more appropriate, you can read EXTREMIS to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Iron Man as a character and go see that little film you’ve probably never heard of coming out in a few days: IRON MAN 3. Thanks so much, Marie, for talking with the Beat about your remarkable novel, and thanks for taking an interest in Mr. Stark despite the vagaries of his personality. We also can’t wait to read CURSE OF THE HIPPO, more or less assuming, and hoping, there will be some “chasing” involved.

Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.

 

On the Scene: Sex and Violence? “Blame it on New York!”

A group of New York City inspired comics creators descended on the Soho Gallery for Digital Art on the 17th of April to discuss the good, the bad, and the strange elements of the city that have influenced their lives and works, including Al Jaffee of MAD Magazine fame, Peter Kuper of Spy vs. Spy and the upcoming DRAWN TO NEW YORK, Dean Haspiel of CUBA: MY REVOLUTION and BILLY DOGMA, R. Sikoryak of MASTERPIECE COMICS, Bob Fingerman who created MAXIMUM MINIMUM WAGE, and Miriam Katin of WE ARE ON OUR OWN and LETTING IT GO. The evening was hosted and moderated by former Marvel editor, author, and educator Danny Fingeroth, who, like Haspiel, is a Manhattan native.221778_10200511679530997_1681142325_n

The event’s first “victim” was godfather of New York comics Al Jaffee, who conversed with Fingeroth about his life in comics accompanied by slides, many of which were biographical illustrations Jaffee created as original content for his biography Al Jaffee’s Mad Life. Jaffee described his wanderings, from early life in New York, followed by several years with his mother’s family in a Jewish enclave in Lithuania, to his all-American return to the city at age 12, before taking up his place in the first graduating class of New York’s High School of Music and Art. “The only thing that I had going for me throughout my life”, he said spryly, was, “the ability to draw funny pictures”. His “constant competition” with childhood friend and classmate Will Elder kept him on his toes, Jaffee narrated, often relating very humorous anecdotes about their antics. IMG_5461

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PREVIEW REVIEW: Shipwrecked with BREAKERS

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It’s a strange guide to a mysterious treasure, this tome launching April 25th at Desert Island (eerily appropriate venue name!) from So What? Press, edited by Lara Antal and Dave Kelly. BREAKERS is the culmination of the Atlantic Center for the Arts Residency Program’s three weeks of seclusion for 26 comics creators in the Autumn of 2012. Those circumstances alone are enough to make it an unusual volume, but in addition the “students” who willingly cast away on this adventure are all professionals placing themselves for the duration of the residency in the hands of mentors to explore their craft, do a fair amount of soul-searching, and rise the challenges their mentors posed. Mentors for the ACA Residency 2012 as “Master Artists-in-Residence” included Ellen Forney, Megan Kelso, and Dean Haspiel and their “students” were organized into three “teams” under their leaders, self-titled Team Zeppelin, Field House Gang, and Team YOLO, respectively.

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Mini-Review: New Territory for HE-MAN and the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE #1

I could pretend that I wasn’t slightly baffled by this comic, and try to be objective about its visually appealing art and its rather nuanced storytelling, separating it surgically from the fact that I grew up with the cartoon and played endlessly with the He-Man figures with my siblings. But the more entrenched those childhood memories are, the harder it is to react without sentimental overload.

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This comic, firstly, is a very unfamiliar world to those who have only watched the cartoon. This is partly because the first issue follows on from a mini-series they might not have read, and so does not make it a point to focus on the distinctive, simplistic, iconic images from the TV show or toy-line. There is no Skeletor visible in issue #1, no focus on Grayskull as a location. What we do have are zones that were not as fully explored in the show, and that broadens the world of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. That is actually a good thing. It just may throw new HE-MAN comics readers for a loop.

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MEGA-INTERVIEW with Matt Kindt: ‘find the territory that nobody has staked out yet’

Interviewing Matt Kindt at WonderCon brought with it some unusual circumstances. Just prior to speaking to Kindt, I had the opportunity to hear him talk about his career history in a mammoth 90 minute panel interview, which I later covered for The Beat. This posed a serious question: what could I possibly ask him about that he had not already covered during the panel? Fortunately, hearing about Kindt’s life and work in such detail was a good springboard for posing some strange queries and I tried to get off the beaten path a little in the subjects we discussed. Not only was Kindt engaging, despite talking about himself at length for such long periods that day, but he allowed extra time for our chat, which was more than gracious of him. mbrittany_kindt_interview_5

Last week the first collected edition of his phenomenal series MIND MGMT (about the dark aftermath of a psychic spy organization) was released from Dark Horse, and this week, another new issue hits the stands. It’s an opportunity for new readers to jump on board and find out what all the clamor is about, but it’s also a season in the sun for fans who have been following Kindt’s long and unwavering career bringing his personal visions to light as both a writer and an artist. The more you hear from Kindt about his life and work, the more compelling his journey becomes for fans, and it’s easy to see why he inspires readers to stay with him for the long haul to the heights of comics stardom. For some, he’s a rising star, but the inside story behind the success is that he’s been shining brightly all along via a methodical commitment to his craft.

Hannah Means-Shannon: We’re starting off with a big question! Why do you think people need stories? Are they just entertainment, or is there something more than that to it?

Matt Kindt: I don’t know. There are so many answers to that question. People read to escape and people read for whatever reason. Like the reasons I read are for ideas. And it’s because I guess I just like pure ideas. So one of my favorite authors is Phillip K. Dick, and it’s not because his writing is so good. It’s not like it’s so great, frankly, the novels aren’t that fantastically written, but he puts so many ideas and different concepts in those books that that’s what I like. So, while I don’t recommend that everybody read his books, I think that he’s got more ideas per page than anybody, so that’s why I read. And again, it’s not so much about the story as it is about pure ideas. So that’s why I read, and honestly, that’s kind of why I watch movies, and that’s why I take in any sort of entertainment. Because I’m just on the hunt for a unique way of looking at something or a different perspective. I don’t know if a lot of people read what I do, but I’m glad they do. Is that vague enough for you?

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INTERVIEW: Dustin Nguyen’s Big Ideas behind LI’L GOTHAM

I caught up with longtime DETECTIVE COMICS and BATMAN artist Dustin Nguyen at WonderCon to find out about the L’IL GOTHAM phenomenon, a regular series that started as digital only from DC in October 2012 (having formerly appeared in annuals in 2009), casting the heroes and villains of Gotham City in a stylized mode with an all-ages slant. The digital series focused on holiday themes, and tested the waters for fan interest, but the series attracted more attention than easily predicted and became a runaway success. With that level of fan-base, it was time for the series to take the plunge as an ongoing digital offering with a print component. The first issue of the print run debuted April 10th, bring Nguyen’s stunning watercolor artwork, and the comic’s wide-ranging appeal in storyline, to readers on a global scale.

Batman+Lil+Gotham+-Zone-000The characters in LI’L GOTHAM may appear to be tykes, but there’s a remarkable verisimilitude to everything that makes Gotham City and its denizens fascinating subject matter. It may be a little less “dark” in order to meet the approval of younger readers, but the series’ success thus far has been built upon its evocative approach to a mythology we all know so well. Nguyen not only draws and paints LI’L GOTHAM, but he co-writes the series with Derek Fridolfs, drawing on a wide range of influence from the pop culture miasma that surrounds the Caped Crusader. Nguyen’s personal enthusiasm for the series was obvious during our discussion, and made it clear that he couldn’t be more at home giving new form to his favorite characters than working on LI’L GOTHAM.

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On the Scene: MoCCA Fest 2013, SelfMadeHero’s Englishmen in New York

It’s a truism that comics culture and the comics industry varies radically from country to country, but MoCCA Fest’s efforts to bring in an international perspective is laudable, to get past the stereotypes of difference and hear the story first-hand. Needless to say, it’s valuable to avoid a myopic perspective of the American comics industry and acknowledge that our panorama is limited and limiting when facing  the tide of increasingly globalization in pop culture. On Sunday, April 7th, SelfMadeHero brought in some of its best and brightest British comics creators in a panel “Table Talk” hosted by Jimmy Aquino of Comic News Insider to discuss with a conversational style their current works, their comics heroes, and how they view the relationship between the British and American comics scene. Glyn Dillon (THE NAO OF BROWN), Rob Davis (THE COMPLETE DON QUIXOTE), JAKe, and Robert Sellers (HELLRAISERS) fielded Aquino’s questions and compared notes on their comics past and comics present.

IMG_5344 Aquino asked this small invasion of panellists what exactly they feel the differences are between the world of comics in the UK versus the USA. JAKe immediately leapt to the trends in production, pointing that it’s much more common in the UK to “do it all” without “splitting labor” in comics creating, including both writing and artwork. Davis reflected on the market he’s observed over the years, growing up with comics in the UK that were primarily “aimed at kids” until the sea-change of the ‘80’s. JAKe agreed, citing the “boom” of the late ‘80’s as a transition. After WATCHMEN set fire to the comics scene, “American publishers took all the British talent”, JAKe said. Then there was Vertigo, too, embracing British influence. Davis felt that the field has been levelled in more recent years as the “Internet has become an international language”.

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REVIEW: 10 Debuts at MoCCA Fest 2013

MoCCA Fest simulates the surreal experience of swimming in comics, even this year when things were more neatly arranged within their red curtained aisles, and perhaps it was more of a spa experience than it has been in the past. Being more orderly just meant that you were exposed to even more dizzyingly interesting indie books and had an even wider array of choices to make in what you took home. It was an environment in which it was hard to pass up the attractions, no matter how heavy your bags got with fresh and innovative works. Here’s a brief review of each of several new comics I had the good fortune to end up with when I dumped out my tote bag at home, and appended to that a few comics that debuted this year but didn’t make it into our previews list at the Beat since, as the artists have attested, they were up all night tweaking their projects and glad just to get them onto the tables in time for possibly the biggest year in MoCCA Fest history, certainly one of the most memorable.

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REVIEW: Gaming and Comics Collide in HAWKEN:GENESIS

Archaia, who makes a strengths out of the crossroads between comics and other visual media, has taken on another estuary zone in HAWKEN: GENESIS, bringing a comic based on a free internet gaming hub, HAWKEN to readers. Flood zones between visual media can be tricky, especially in gauging the right audience for a comic, since there’s not a one to one correspondence between gamers and comics readers in this case. But there is overlap, and Archaia are setting out to find out just how wide that swath is, and how much interest gamers might take in comics and comics readers might take in gaming. What they’ve produced, however, is a graphic novel true to the traditions of comics, featuring the aspects of the comics medium that can even more fully explore the world of HAWKEN in a sci-fi tradition. Add to that a commitment to bringing in comics artists who are well-versed in the medium to interpret the world of gaming into sequential narrative.

 images-2HAWKEN: GENESIS is a hardback collection with a strong design throughout, courtesy of Scott Newman, suggesting that quality graphic novel creation was one of the priorities of the team. It not only contains individual “chapters” of the narrative, drawn by individual collaborations between artists and colorists based on the unified writing of Jeremy Barlow steering the story-creators Dan Jevons, Miles Williams, and Khang Lee, but also “interstitial story” elements between chapters that convey meta information by Andrew Nielson and Heather Nuhfer. This is an interesting choice because it harks back to gaming elements, but also ties into the kind of comics extras provided in dense comics works like WATCHMEN and LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. These extras convey a sense of total world creation and heighten the suspension of disbelief in the comics experience.

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INTERVIEW: Larry Hama is a Historian of Horror in THE STRANGER

Sitting down to describe Larry Hama’s career it a pretty overwhelming task. Do you talk about his start in comics at the age of 16, his service in Vietnam, his work as a penciller in comics, or his tremendous writing output, spanning decades? Add to that the fact that this all creates a composite portrait of a renaissance man from artist, to soldier, to writer. Throw in acting and music and you might be getting closer to the big picture. One of his most familiar writing projects has been G.I. JOE from Marvel Comics for over a decade, returning in IDW’s imprint of G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO in 2010.  Not surprisingly, it’s writing that Hama wants to talk about these days, particularly, and his massive three part self-published vampire novel THE STRANGER is an excellent place to start. Hama released the three parts of the e-book close together in the autumn of 2012, and produced therein a spectacle-laden fusion of action and horror elements steeped in detailed historical research.

hama1THE STRANGER, featuring the intersecting lives of three characters including a vampire hunter, a vampire, and a young film student drawn into the hunt, draws on three first person narratives that vary widely in style and perspective. In fact, the narrative styles vary so much that you’d find it difficult to locate a work of fiction that has pulled off such transitions with such compelling results. If you download the book for its subject matter, you’re just as likely to be transfixed by the prose styles you encounter. The historical sweep of the novel is also impressive and convincing, kicking off in Jerusalem under Imperial Roman Rule, and consisting of flashbacks and informative supplements while maintaining a footing in modern day New York City. Like Hama, the work is so multifaceted that not knowing quite what to expect is part of the fascination, from the supernatural, to the grotesque and the humorous. In a self-published work, Hama has had free reign to craft a story containing some of the elements that he finds most compelling in storytelling, and he has been willing to give us some insight into his personal process behind THE STRANGER at The Beat.

 

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On the Scene: MoCCA Fest 2013, Words from the Market-Wise at the ‘Art as Profession’ Panel

Holding panels in the wood-panelled bowels of the Armory this year at MoCCA Fest did bring a certain gravitas to the proceedings even if the location was a little difficult to locate for the unfamiliar. When I arrived at the “Art as Profession: Creating, Promoting, and Making Money in Comics” panel at 11:30 on Sunday the 7th of April, the room was already packed and couldn’t have squeezed in more than a couple more inquisitive souls. Judy Hansen (of Hansen Literary), Micah Spivak (of the Scott Eder Gallery), George Rohac (of Oni Press and Benign Kingdom), and Boulet (Gilles Roussel) appeared in a discussion moderated by The Beat’s own Heidi MacDonald.

 IMG_5328Early on in the panel, Hansen predicted an “indie comics boom” when iPad and tablet resolution improves and pointed out that we’re currently in a “glitch period” where there’s a gray area and “lack of demarcation” between film, TV, and webisodes that’s blurring with the indie comics market. McDonald agreed, commenting upon this “period when nobody knows where it’s going”. Rohac reframed the situation from his perspective, stating a “steady climb” to “big success” for Oni Press in web comics, citing a commitment during Oni’s “switch over” with presenting digital comics to “putting everything out on time” which have driven sales up to a “really solid position”. His perspective suggested that orderliness is a way toward success during this ambiguous time.

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Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer Go “Live” at Bard College

The Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College in Red Hook, New York, hosted “An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmeron the 6th of April, an event packed with poetry, prose, and musical performance numbers from Gaiman and Palmer alike, frequently in combination. Here are some photos and a few choice quotes from the Q and A session, which Gaiman and Palmer drew from a pool of fan questionnaire sheets left discreetly in the lobby before the performance.

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On the Scene: WonderCon 2013 Recap and Photo Gallery

As I suggested in my early con impressions, WonderCon had a reasonable amount of space and handled the numbers of attendees pretty well. It was no surprise that Saturday brought bigger numbers than Friday, and the crowding was more obvious, but still never reached that feeling of pushing and shoving that can easily erupt at crowded cons. The floor occasionally got backed up, particularly around the constantly slammed DC Comics booth, where big names like Scott Snyder appeared frequently for signings and the DC booth’s location, at the very front of the con entrance, contributed to some difficulty getting onto the floor. I noticed that the retail side of things was fairly busy, too, with some crowding and difficulty navigating, suggesting that plenty of fans were there to buy back issues and memorabilia, as well. The artists alley at WonderCon was a little on the scanty side in terms of size and numbers of tables, but those artists who were present were very engaging and passionate about their work. They seemed to have regular followers who were coming in to buy their artwork and there was a strong representation of the fine art side of fantasy prints and original work, as well as handmade arts and crafts.

mbrittany_plazaOpen areas like the food court and outside atrium were a welcome oasis, but it also continued to be easy to exit the con into the outdoor plaza areas for a rest and there was no difficulty with re-entry. Though the floor only allowed a couple of doors for access, the many exterior doors were open for comings and goings, with several food trucks outside, far enough from the entrance not to cause back ups. One other surprise was that Sunday seemed just as busy as Saturday, as I heard retailers commenting. They were turning over sales at just as high a rate that day. This feeling may be due to the fact that there were slightly fewer panels on Sunday, making the floor more of a feature, or simply that people waited to do their shopping on the floor on Sunday. When I stumbled into the Arena, a venue I hadn’t seen before, I was impressed with the numbers it could hold, and also that it was completely full for a Joss Whedon Shakespeare film adaptation event. This suggested to me that the con was handling numbers well, since I generally had no idea that so many people were even at the con on top of the numbers moving in the open spaces of the con. It was Easter Sunday the last day of the con, and it closed a little early, at 5PM, perhaps for this reason, but fans still had a sense that they would have been happy for the con to go on a little longer, a good sign regarding WonderCon’s appeal.

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On the Scene: WonderCon 2013, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti Are ‘Interactive’

“I’m sorry I’m late with my book”, Jimmy Palmiotti said rather humbly, opening a “spotlight” panel on March 31st 2013 at WonderCon, and asked the audience if he ought to put on some “background music”.  Amanda Conner, his co-spotlighter, and Palmiotti explained, tongue in cheek, that if the panel appeared “random”, months of deep thought had allowed them to “plan it to be random”. Attendees were already engaged by the humor, and probably by their avid fandom of both Conner and Palmiotti’s work, in this panel Conner and Palmiotti hoped would be “interactive”.

mbrittany_palmiotti_and_conner_1For the first part of the panel, they followed a rough chronology of the story of their working and personal relationship together, but Q &A was welcome throughout. Palmiotti explained that the “magic started” between the couple when he inked a GARGOYLES cover for Conner and a friendship developed between them. This friendship allowed them to learn the “horrible, wonderful sides” of each other, Conner commented. Palmiotti added that they “knew each other insanely well” long before they started dating.

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On the Scene: WonderCon 2013, Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick Pushes Fan Empowerment

While the Nerdist Industries’ arena event at WonderCon this year was ostensibly about the future of the Youtube based pop culture conglomerate, and, indeed, plenty was said about upcoming projects, the question and answer period really expanded into a call to arms for fans to help directly determine the future of pop culture.

mbrittany_hardwick_panel_1Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick took the stage, joined by panellists Paul Provenza, Troy Conrad, and Matt Bennett, on March 31st, in the lead up to the season finale of The Walking Dead. Hardwick’s job as host of Talking Dead meant there was plenty of frisson in the audience about the upcoming show, and Hardwick teased, but didn’t deliver, spoilers on the show’s finale several times. In fact, he informed the audience that he was about to “get into a car to film Talking Dead” following his WonderCon appearance. Envy at his early viewing of the finale was palpable.

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On the Scene: WonderCon 2013, Ann Nocenti and Jim Lee Enthuse about Comics

On March 30th, WonderCon attendees got treated to a bonus feature in a Spotlight panel with Ann Nocenti, Jim Lee acting as her interviewer. The two had so much shared history that they reminisced about the “good old days” at Marvel as well as plunging into the current artwork that most impresses them on their work for DC. The panel opened with a tone-setting description from Nocenti of her time as a Marvel writer and editor, “back in the day when Marvel Comics was so much fun”, when you could “smoke and drink and have guns in the office”. Lee confirmed that the gun in the office was an observable phenomenon, and Nocenti added by way of explanation that guns were needed for “reference”.

mbrittany_nocenti_panel_1Lee started off by introducing Nocenti as the “self proclaimed female token writer at DC” and asked her how her current state came to be, considering that in her Marvel days there were several women on staff. Nocenti commented that though there were women at Marvel, she recalled that there were never any women at comic cons back then, unlike the demographic at WonderCon. “It must have been rough on you guys”, she teased Lee. Some of her workmates at Marvel, she explained, were Mark Gruenwald, “the soul of Marvel Comics”, Larry Hama, who was known for “pounding, crazy music” in his office, and Peter Sanderson, a “living archive” of all things Marvel.

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