I grew up in Michigan and live there now, but in between I lived in Chicago, Glasgow, New York, and Chicago again. I like to see what’s out there, right?
I started creating comics right out of college, about 15 years ago, but it took a good long time to find a footing. Before I graduated, I’d started working on a script called Raziel, which was about a teenager who died and returned as an angel, with access to knowledge about everything except why. I wrote one issue and actually got it illustrated; I shopped it around, even showed it to Image, but it didn’t go anywhere. I had it on some online communities but Comixology and the like weren’t yet a thing. Sometimes I wonder if I should put it on Comixology now; there’s a lot I like about it, but I’m a better writer now than I was at 22. So.
From there I had a couple things in anthologies. I wrote for comics websites for ages, first Silver Bullet Comic Books (which is now Comics Bulletin), then Comic Book Resources, where I still freelance for convention reporting. I took classes at Comics Experience, which is run by former Marvel and IDW editor Andy Schmidt – that’s where I started developing Interesting Drug.
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 you wanted to follow?
I’ve always wanted to write and tell stories, though I don’t know that it would have occurred to me that this was an actual thing that I could do professionally if not for a high school English teacher telling me, specifically, “It’s ok to be a writer.” This was in a conference over something I’d written, I don’t know what; it was after reading Waiting for Godot in class, so it was probably pretty out there. I hope it was good!
Broadly speaking, what inspired me to write was reading stories with a lot of mythology, or things with layers, like Godot. In comics, I know I was big on Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman and Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen’s House of Secrets, plus back issues of Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League.
Your work had been featured in quite a few different publications. Can you talk more about that?
I love doing short stories, and this is a great way to get your work in front of people. From a publisher’s standpoint, I’d think it’s easier to take a risk on a new creator for a couple pages at a time, with bigger names doing the heavy lifting of selling books. I mean, I’m not kidding myself, not a whole lot of people right now are buying comics just because my name’s on the cover. But in Dark Horse Presents, my story was right after Gaiman and Paul Chadwick’s piece – man. It was enough being in the same issue with them, but it was thrilling to see that placement.
These shorts also let you feel a part of something bigger. I’ve really enjoyed the Thought Bubble anthologies, which tie in with a British convention and support charity with the proceeds of the comics. It’s a cool little annual; not especially famous, but cool, and there are just absolutely stellar creators involved. And this year I had a story in, so I’m feeling good.
I have always found the idea of time travel fascinating; this story is a very different take on this idea. When you started writing Interesting Drug where did you come up with this idea?
There were a couple things at play, but mostly I was trying to think of what time travel would look like if it was tied to a person’s biological being rather than something external like a machine. Part of it, too, came from a deep reading of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. There are a lot of ideas about time in there, but the one I latched onto was this sense that a person’s entire timeline exists simultaneously, and he or she just travels along it. If that’s true, there should be a way – at least in science fiction-y science — to access it holistically.
The ending of Interesting Drug is pretty wide open. Did you intentionally do this for the purpose of a sequel? Is there more of this story to tell? (Read my review of Interesting Drug here.)
I’m pretty sure the main characters’ adventures are done, but I’d love to do a sequel of stories set in this world. There’s one idea in particular that just didn’t fit in the book (outside of one throwaway line) that I find fascinating and want to explore further – crime tourism. Because, with the way the drug works, a person could theoretically go back in time and commit murder, but that victim would still be alive when the trip ends. No crime has been committed from the point of view of the “real” present, but the action of committing murder would be very real to the traveler. How does that affect a person?
I am a big fan of Archaia Comics they have some really cool and exciting stories. Can you talk a little about how they found out about Interesting Drug and decided to pick up the story? How did that whole process play out?
Ha. I was at a party at San Diego Comic-Con. Stephen Christy, who was then Archaia’s Editor in Chief and is now BOOM!’s movie guy, asked me if I had any stories. Next day I showed him the sample art I had from Anna. I believe what he said was, “Holy shit.”
Took us a while to get it moving, but I’m very very pleased wit how it turned out.
The artwork in Interesting Drug is highly stylized and very different. It almost looks like there are two different styles in the book. Can you explain how you chose to go with that style(s) versus a more traditional one? What did this style add to the story that a more traditional style did not.
I actually had a very different style in mind for the book, something more naturalistic along the lines of Pia Guerra’s work on Y: The Last Man. But when I was fishing for artists, Anna’s work came through and I knew immediately that I wanted it. Anna brings an energy to the story, the bright colors I think add this manic urgency to everything.
I saw on your website that you have been working on a new book called Hell, Nebraska that I think looks pretty interesting. Can you talk a little about and what it is about?
Hell, Nebraska is actually complete – available on Comixology or in print from shaunmanning.com. That one, also illustrated by Anna, is about a man who discovers that Hell doesn’t exist, so he decides to create it in the middle of flyover country.
Which of your works are you most proud of and why?
Interesting Drug is kind of my baby, and my first book with a publisher is definitely the thing I show off. I’m really happy with my Thought Bubble story, as well, especially since I got it into Thought Bubble. Oh, and that time I got a short story on BBC Radio 4, that was great.
I’m working on a few things I’m really excited about, as well. One of them should be out around June, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet. The other is in search of a publisher, so it’ll be a while.
Can you talk a little about some of the other projects you are currently working on and anything new you have in the pipeline for the future?
I’ve got a dark, dark comedy (or two); some historical fiction; a sci-fi love story; and hoping for a few other pitches to gain some traction. I’ve been talking with some folks about doing some kids’ comics, as I’d really like to write something my six-year-old daughter could read. Stay tuned!
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?
I’d say the first thing is, find some people whose opinions you trust. Workshops are great – if someone doesn’t like what you’ve written, who cares, he’s an asshole; if seven people point out the same problems, maybe it’s time for a rethink. Same is true if they like it; one person’s opinion really isn’t enough, but if you’ve got a room full of people saying, “I’d read this,” that’s solid. Get advice on your work.
From there: find an artist. This is the thing I still really struggle with. But the truth is, nobody wants to read your script. Having actual artwork to show editors is all but essential.
Also: be cool. Talk to people. Meet everybody you can. Not everything has to be a pitch, and probably shouldn’t be. Folks will be more open to listening to your pitch if they already like you.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me! Getting started in comics is hard, and I’m very thankful when anyone reads and enjoys my books. Interesting Drug is available from comic shops, bookstores, and Comixology, or you can order a signed copy through my website, shaunmanning.com. Hell, Nebraska is on Comixology and Noisetrade, and the print edition can be ordered through my website. Most of the anthologies I’ve been in are on Comixology, as well, and you may be able to find the issues in your shop; I’d especially recommend getting Thought Bubble 2015 in print if you can find it, since it’s newspaper format and very cool as a physical object.