AHOY Comics has made quite a splash since their debut a little over a year ago. The publisher has produced an eclectic mix of books featuring, among other things, unfrozen ’80s jocks, a team of inept adventurers, and a perpetually inebriated Edgar Allan Poe, all supplemented by bonus material like back-up stories, short fiction, poetry, and puzzles. With their third wave of titles underway and collections of the second wave hitting store shelves, AHOY recently unveiled a lineup of three new series scheduled to debut in early 2020.
The next wave of miniseries includes Mark Russell and Steve Pugh‘s Billionaire Island, in which the richest of the rich build their own private island in order to wait out the end of the world; Ash & Thorn, a new twist on a familiar story by Mariah McCourt, Soo Lee, and Pippa Bowland where the ‘chosen one’ who will save the world from the forces of evil is an octogenarian; and Penultiman, the latest series by Planet of the Nerds artist Alan Robinson and AHOY editor-in-chief Tom Peyer. The first series to debut out of the publisher’s contested Steel Cage competition, Penultiman follows a modern-day world’s greatest superhero who, unbeknownst to the world at large, was exiled from the far future for being inferior. Peyer and Robinson’s initial Penultiman story, which appeared in Steel Cage under the title ‘True Identity,’ featured a smart blend of classic superheroics, science fiction elements, and existential despair.
The Beat had the opportunity to chat with Tom Peyer about his currently-available AHOY books, the The Wrong Earth prequel series Dragonfly & Dragonflyman and the collected edition of Hashtag: Danger, as well as about next year’s wave of AHOY titles and what makes them a perfect fit for the publisher.
Joe Grunenwald: Tom, Dragonfly & Dragonflyman launched a couple of weeks ago, and it’s already done a lot to expand on concepts and characters introduced in The Wrong Earth. I’m in particular enjoying the interactions between the two heroes and their respective Stingers. What to you is the key difference between the Dragonfly(man)/Stinger relationships on each Earth?
Tom Peyer: Dragonfly is fighting crime in a more violent, more corrupt, less forgiving society than his counterpart Dragonflyman. It really is a war to him. As such, he’s a sterner disciplinarian than Dragonflyman, less prone to listen to his Stinger, or to loop him into his thinking. To him, Stinger is a subordinate soldier who shouldn’t be asking questions. Dragonflyman takes a more educational approach; he’s wants Stinger to know everything he does, which is a lot. And he’s pleased when his sidekick solves a clue, wins a fight, or succeeds independently in any way.
Grunenwald: You also have the Hashtag: Danger collection that’s recently out in stores. Chris Giarrusso drew the majority of that book, and the juxtaposition between his cartoony, somewhat all-ages style and the actual content of the story is really entertaining. What’s your favorite horrible thing that he drew for the book?
Peyer: I’d have to say the Villain Trap. Hashtag: Danger return from a mission to find that a lethal trap they set for any villains who attack in their absence is overflowing and needs emptying. Chris drew pools of blood and costumed body parts; you can see pieces of an aquatic villain, a monster, an archer, a sword-wielder, a futuristic ray-gun user, etc. My script didn’t ask for any of these; Chris was able to summon most categories of costumed villain and imply each of them clearly via, mostly, sleeves and gloves. I couldn’t believe it.
Grunenwald: Regarding the newly-announced wave of titles, Mark Russell and Steve Pugh’s Billionaire Island sounds both completely outlandish and like the most plausible thing in the world. What made that a series that AHOY had to publish?
Peyer: It’s funny, it’s smart, it looks great, and it’s an idea no one else in comics is doing. That checks all of our boxes. Mark tends to express honest, thoughtful ideas through his stories, yet they’re always easy and fun to read. The best of both worlds. And I’ve been a Pugh fan since we worked together on an issue of Hellblazer, about 400 years ago. It’s one where Constantine is hunted by a possessed junkyard dog, and Steve drawings just luxuriated in the animal’s awfulness.
Grunenwald: Would we be better off if billionaires sequestered themselves on a remote island and left us alone?
Peyer: Go ahead, billionaires. But leave the money here.
Grunenwald: Ash & Thorn by Mariah McCourt, Soo Lee, and Pippa Bowland sounds like a really fun twist on a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque ‘chosen one’ story. How did that creative team come together for this series?
Peyer: We’d approved the series based on Mariah’s pitch. Pretty soon after, we were fortunate enough to arrange for Sarah Litt to edit comics for us on a freelance basis. Sarah deserves the credit for matching art team to story. They’re all terrific.
Grunenwald: Ash & Thorn also has Jill Thompson on covers. Aside from great art, what do you feel those add to the series?
Peyer: Great art is enough, believe me. Everyone who’s seen Jill’s work knows how special it is.
Grunenwald: Last but not least is Penultiman, your series with Alan Robinson and Lee Loughridge. As the first series to come out of Steel Cage and the controversy surrounding voting irregularities, are you prepared for any backlash from disgruntled Bright Boy voters?
Peyer: Bring ‘em on. I used to write Magnus Robot Fighter, so I can handle bots.
Grunenwald: What led to the decision to change the name from True Identity to Penultiman? Were there any other changes from the Steel Cage ‘pilot’ to the miniseries?
Peyer: The name is the only significant change. That came about when Stuart Moore said to me, “you know True Identity is a bad title and Penultiman is a good one, right?” I said a bad word and agreed with him 100%. I don’t know what I was thinking before, or how I expected anyone to remember the name True Identity.
Grunenwald: How would you characterize Penultiman? Is it mostly superhero/sci-fi action with a side of self-loathing, or vice versa, or something else entirely?
Peyer: I’d say vice-versa. Penultiman does get into some physical superhero scrapes, but they’re not as important as the beating he’s giving himself inside. He was born in the far future of ultimate evolution, but as a throwback. He’s the next-to the last stage of evolution. The people of his time see him as a primitive, so they exile him to our era. To us, he’s this miraculous, advanced being. But he knows deep down that he’s not good enough for his own people. There’s something wrong with the way he views his predicament. He doesn’t have to be this unhappy. That problem preoccupies his android understudy, Antepenultiman, who wants to fix him.
Grunenwald: What kind of back-up material should readers expect to see from the next wave of series?
Peyer: More in the way of short prose stories, poems, humor pieces, nonfiction. No one else is doing these, so we’re leaning harder into it.
Grunenwald: What’re you most excited for readers to see from AHOY in the new year?
Peyer: Oh, don’t ask me to pick favorites. All of it. We just want to keep hitting you with the best and funniest comics we know how to make.
Dragonfly & Dragonflyman #1 and the Hashtag: Danger trade paperback are available digitally and in stores now. Billionaire Island, Ash & Thorn, and Penultiman all debut from AHOY Comics in Spring 2020.