I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, and read comics from the time I was probably five years old. I fell off of them in the early 90’s, when everyone was just jumping on the band wagon. Pretty much the only books I read continuously were Concrete, Usagi Yojimbo, and Preacher. Everything else became background noise as I went off to college. I moved out to LA around 2001, and my upstairs neighbor was a huge comic nerd, and we started hanging out at some local comic shops, and I fell back in love with the medium.
When did you first know you wanted to be a comic creator, that that is the career path you want to follow? Who was your inspiration that helped you journey down this path?
I think a lot of people will tell you that they wanted it from the time they were kids or something like that. For me, my drive has always been single mindedly about telling stories. What was attractive about comics was that unlike almost any other medium, it was super easy to get distribution. To put your ideas on paper, to have the benefit of collaborators who were actually additive instead of destructive, and then to get that work out into the world with as few hurdles and problems as possible…That was the real attraction. It just so happened I fell in love with telling stories in this medium. But the whole time I’ve worked in comics I’ve done other things from video games to animation to web, hell, even copy writing. Last year I made the decision to turn comics back into my passion, and I moved over to doing mostly creator owned, and then earning a living working in television, which, honestly, has been about as perfect a life as I could’ve ever dreamed of.
I read you first broke into the main stream in the Pilot Season competition with Top Cow. Can you talk a little about what Pilot Season is and your experience with it?
I’d actually been doing comics for a few years before all of that happened. The work I’d done on my own (Elk’s Run, currently available in a 10th anniversary edition from Oni Press, in particular) had brought my work to the attention of Rob Levin who was the editor at Top Cow at the time. He liked what I did and was given the freedom to look outside of their usual talent pool. So, while it certainly was a big break for me, it was a big break that came off the back of a ton of other work I’d done first.
A lot of it was out of frustration that I talked about a bit earlier. Having been through the grinder of comics and watched them change over the past decade or so, a lot of the bigger comics companies were interested in grabbing media rights, or changing the story into something that my partner, Joe Infurnari, and I just weren’t interested in, y’know? Doing digital gave us complete and utter control.
Can you talk a little about how Oni Press found out about The Bunker and decided to pick up the story, eventually turning it into a print comic?
I’ve been friends with the guys at Oni Press for a long, long time now. I was already developing a book there (which became The Life After, which they’re currently on the second series of), so I figured they wouldn’t want TWO books by me, which is why we sort of skipped them in the publisher search. But, when the first issue came out digitally, Joe Nozemack, who runs Oni, called me and said that whatever we want to do with the book, whatever support we need, he and Oni would be there. Since then, it’s been a fantastic arrangement. They provide so much help in getting the book made month by month, and they bring it to a much bigger audience than Joe and I could manage on our own.
The story in The Bunker is very cool and has a lot of elements at play. Can you talk a little about how you came up with the idea and the story you wanted to tell?
I think that every person has moments where they wish they could get a redo. To know what your decisions means for your future? I mean, that’s a fantasy/nightmare waiting to happen. So, you go from there. From knowing that something terrible was going to happen and that you caused it, and, what makes it worse? If you also know that this terrible thing is a complete and utter necessity. It HAS to happen. So, that gave us the letters that start the story. Road maps that tell our characters what they need to do, who they need to becomes, and the consequences of both following and straying from them.
The artwork in The Bunker is very unique and highly stylized. Can you explain how you chose to go with that style versus a more traditional one? What did this style add to the story that a more traditional style did not.
It doesn’t really work like that. Joe Infurnari was the artist I was talking to about story, and the one who made The Bunker really work in my head. Not just his style or his design sense, but him, the person. Each and every collaboration is the sum of not just the literal artistic skill of the collaborator, but from the wealth of knowledge that sits inside of them. Joe is just as much the author of the book as I am, because it comes as much from who he is as a person as it does for me.
You have been responsible for creating some of the most successful creator owned books and characters, but you have also had the opportunity to work on some famous and established characters. Which do you think is more fun and or challenging to work with, your own characters or those that have a well-known history and established fan base? (I would imagine both would be nerve-racking.)
Both have their pluses and minuses. I’ve been really lucky in that I get to work on what I want, when I want, and how I want. There’s been very few times where I took a job or a deal because I ‘had to’ rather than ‘wanted to.’
You have been able to create some great stories since you started writing comics, which book are you most proud of and why?
The one I write next, hopefully. It’s always about moving forward. I read some of my old books (like when new editions come out, or if I stumble across them while cleaning out my office) and I’m always sort of softly tickled by them, but, the fact is, I always want to fix something or do it differently, and all you can do is look forward to what comes next.
I’ve been really lucky to set up nearly a dozen different projects over the past decade or so. While they all have the best intentions, a lot of the time, it’s a lot of trying desperately to get the gods to obey and bring together everything you need for a tv show or movie to happen. That, sadly, hasn’t happened yet. But, we’ve got some pretty exciting stuff in front of us right now, on The Bunker and some of my older books as well. So, fingers crossed would be appreciated.
Can you talk a little about some of the other projects you are currently working on and anything new you have in the pipeline?
Let’s see…. I’ve got KING from Jet City Productions with Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo, which has its fourth issue out this month. Then from Oni Press I’ve got The Bunker, obviously, and The Life After with Gabo and Crank, which just started a new volume called Exodus. Then, Oni just put out my very first graphic novel Elk’s Run, and have a new edition of my book Tumor (both with Noel Tuazon) on the way. Plus, another creator owned series from them this summer with artist Tony Fleecs. And, I’m writing Godzilla for IDW (with Brian Churilla murdering on art) Pacific Rim for Legendary (Marcos Marz and Marcelo Maiolo over there), and I’ll be working with Aspen to help launch a new chapter in their shared universe, starting with Free Comic Book Day. I’m not sure how I’m going to sleep as I attempt to keep up.
Looking at your success, you are an inspiration to anyone, especially me, trying to break into this business. As an aspiring comic writer, can you offer any advice to me or anyone else out there wanting to follow in your footsteps? What has helped you most to become successful in the ultra-competitive world of creating comic?
Just do the work. That’s all there is to it. Do the work, be happy to be told you suck, and learn from everyone around you always. The good, the bad, the ugly. They all teach equally useful lessons.
Is there anything else you would like to add?