Superhero comics can be really depressing sometimes. World-threatening crossover events lead one into the next with no end in sight. Fan-favorite heroes are turned into killers and villains for no apparent reason. Light elements are introduced just to be twisted and destroyed in an attempt to show how supposedly ‘adult’ comics can be. It’s enough to make a life-long superhero fan want to swear off the whole genre.
Enter Karl Kesel and David Hahn. The Eisner-nominated industry veterans, known for work on characters like Harley Quinn and Batman ’66, are looking to inject a little fun back into comics with their new graphic novel, Impossible Jones: Grin & Gritty. The duo are aided in their efforts by colorist Tony Avina and the letterers at Comicraft. A Kickstarter campaign to fund completion of the book is currently underway, and about halfway to its goal with just over a week to go. The graphic novel tells the story of Impossible Jones, a criminal who, after gaining superpowers, is mistaken for being a hero. She quickly decides to use the case of mistaken identity to her advantage as she gets revenge on her old gang.
Kesel and Hahn have assembled an impressive lineup of artists to contribute pin-ups and bonus art to the graphic novel, including Amanda Conner, Cully Hamner, and Terry Dodson. The Kickstarter campaign also features backer rewards like commissions and original art from past Hahn/Kesel collaborations, as well as being drawn into the book as a bystander or a henchperson. This morning Kesel and fellow creator Ron Randall, who is currently running a campaign for his own creator-owned book, Trekker, issued each other a $1,000 Challenge to see who could raise that amount for their respective campaign faster.
Full disclosure: I’ve backed the Impossible Jones campaign, and I really want to read the rest of this story. The preview pages on the campaign page, some of which you’ll see below, are worth reading: the tone and feel of the book is classic comics, with clean lines, great action, and a lot of humor.
I had the opportunity to ask Kesel and Hahn about what’s gone into creating Impossible Jones, why Kickstarter was the way to go with the book, and what backers can expect from their pledges.
Joe Grunenwald: Tell us a little bit about Impossible Jones. Who is she and how did she come to be?
Karl Kesel: Two things came together in my mind. One: I really missed writing Harley Quinn (I had written her first monthly series) and wanted to do more with an energetic, engaging, unpredictable female character. Two: I literally woke up one morning and knew how I’d do Plastic Man, given the chance. Plastic Man’s a thief who gets shot, falls in a vat of acid, gets powers, and wakes up and thinks “I should fight crime.” NO! When he wakes up he should say “I got powers? Great! Now I can get payback on the sonsabitches who left me for dead!” And that’s what Imp does— she goes after her old gang. But from the outside looking in, she’s going after criminals, so the natural assumption is she’s a superhero! And— being wanted by the police, otherwise— she runs with it! Hilarity and hi-jinx follow…
Interesting side-note: when I was taken off writing the first Harley Quinn book, I wanted to do a storyline that would introduce a viable romantic interest for Harley who wasn’t the Joker. That character: Plastic Man. Didn’t get approved.
I think the seeds for Impossible Jones were planted right there.
Grunenwald: Why do you think Kickstarter was the best avenue for getting this book and this character out into the world?
Kesel: I knew this was an idea to keep and nurture as a creator-owned one. That ruled out the major companies. And the minor ones don’t pay (people like me, at least) enough up-front to cover the bills while working on the book. Kickstarter was the best of both worlds: ownership and enough money up front to pay our way while finishing the project. (Assuming it gets funded, that is!)
Grunenwald: What was the genesis of creating the character? Did the two of you develop her together, or did one of you spearhead things and ‘recruit’ the other?
David Hahn: Karl had the idea for Impossible Jones and he approached me as the penciler. He had the idea for a spunky, hero-who-is-really-a-villain (but not a terribly mean one), and it went from there.
Kesel: The character was in my head, in broad strokes. But David continues to bring touches and insights into Imp that really round her out and bring her to life.
Grunenwald: David, I love the visuals of Impossible Jones – the eyewear, the color scheme, all of it. What did you have in mind as you were designing her look?
Hahn: Karl and I knew we wanted her to be reminiscent of Plastic Man, so that was the original impetus for the costume. Plus Karl wanted to work in the exclamation point, and the slanted collar idea just sort of sprang forth, not sure if that was his or mine. Goggles are fun (until you have to draw them) so we added those as well.
Grunenwald: You two are both part of the Portland-based Helioscope collective. Does that allow you to have face-to-face interaction when working on Impossible Jones? And if so, how do you think that’s helped shape your work on the book? If not, has collaborating remotely had an impact?
Hahn: I no longer live in Oregon, so the face-to-face meetings are out, but that hasn’t changed our ability to co-create and share our ideas. Email exchanges tend to work best for me any way, as I can go back and read notes instead of trying to remember everything.
Kesel: It’s like casting a movie— if you do it right, a lot of the hard work is already done, and everything that follows is easier. I’ve had Impossible Jones in my head for a long time now, looking for the right collaborator to do her with. I’ve always loved David’s work— always tried to work with him whenever possible— so I figured: why not work with him on something impossible, too?
Grunenwald: An initial, cancelled Kickstarter campaign for Impossible Jones was for just the first issue of a series. That’s since become the graphic novel being Kickstarted now. Did the change in format affect your work on the book or how you’re telling the story?
Kesel: Not really. Our first “issue” is 27 pages long, so from the start we were only marginally following a typical 32-page comic format. The graphic novel approach just seems more honest to the concept and our natural approach.
Grunenwald: You two have collaborated a few times before, with Karl having both written for and inked over David’s pencils in the past. Praise each other for a moment: what do you love about working with each other?
Hahn: I’d wanted to work with Karl for quite some time in any capacity, but I really wanted to see his inks on my pencils. That happened with his Johnny Zombie short story several years ago, which he wrote and inked. He really makes my work look extra-professional. His inking style is clean, like my pencils, and I think that is what I like the most. He was also my first choice for inker on the Batman ‘66 mini-series we have done [Batman ’66 Meets the Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Batman ’66 Meets Wonder Woman ’77].
Kesel: I love the simplicity and elegance in David’s work. And I find it fascinating that his style can be whimsical in one panel, then cold and heartless in the next. You don’t find that sort of range in a lot of pencilers. It’s also essentially urban in look— which is a primal part of a superhero story. Superheroes operate in cities, not the country. (99 times out of 100, at least.) And I love inking David. His work is deceptively simple, because when you don’t have a lot of lines, each line has to be exactly right. If I mess up a line while inking David, it shows. But that’s a challenge I enjoy, because the end result is so worth it.
Grunenwald: What should readers expect when they choose to back Impossible Jones: Grin & Gritty?
Hahn: A job done on time! And of course a whimsical story with heart and gorgeous colors by Tony Avina.
Kesel: Yes— Tony’s our secret weapon! He has such an excellent sense of shape and form, of the planes of an object— and that is exactly what’s needed to bring David’s work to life.
As for what readers can expect in Impossible Jones— just remember: Impossible Jones is trying to pass as a superhero, but she’s still very much a thief at heart. She’s pulling a very long, very complex, and often very dangerous con job on (literally) some of the most powerful people in the world. She’ll do anything to pull that off. Anything.
Nothing is impossible for Impossible Jones.
Grunenwald: Any final thoughts or words of encouragement for would-be backers?
Kesel: If you want to see books like this— fun, engaging, a little quirky— you need to support books like Impossible Jones. We need your support. We can’t do it without you. The important part of crowdfunding is the crowd— and that’s you… and you… and you…
You’re the ones— the only ones— who can make Impossible Jones possible.
And that’s a pretty damn impressive super-power you got there.
The Kickstarter campaign for Impossible Jones: Grin & Gritty runs through 10:00 PM Eastern on Tuesday, July 2nd.