An interesting story.

I wanted to share an interesting story. Or at least, I think it’s interesting.

I missed out on the big seminal works from the early 80s, stuff like Watchmen, Dark Knight, Sandman, all the stuff that had a big impact on the rest of the books that followed it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve since read and enjoyed all of those books, but when I was first getting into comics, and more importantly when I first started writing comics, I hadn’t read any of those books yet.

I started working on a story that I thought was brilliant. I had a group of disbanded former superheroes who now led ordinary regular lives while a new generation of heroes had taken their place. The story focused on a pair of these retired heroes (and they weren’t retired because they were old, necessarily, but retired because crime-fighting is a dangerous and damaging career) who were friends and hung out and did things like drink coffee and watch movies.

Then their former teammates started dying. They had a funeral for the first of the heroes to die, where they met up with all their old teammates and some of the new breed that had taken over for them. The duo that the story focused on were an odd couple, a fairly straight-laced former dark avenger type, while the other was a paranoid, mentally unstable former government operative. This whackjob guy came to the conclusion that someone was killing off the retired heroes.

(Please keep in mind, and please believe me when I say that when I was developing this, my magnum fucking opus, I still HAD NOT read Watchmen, nor did I really know any of the story or plot points from Watchmen.)

Eventually more of the older heroes died, some of them murdered viciously in their own homes by an unseen assailant. This is where my story differed, because the killer turned out to be one of the new breed of “heroes” that had taken on the role when the older group retired. However, I did have my duo break into the superhuman prison in order to interrogate a number of supervillains incarcerated there.

I developed so many characters for this, outlined this long over-arching plotline of conspiracy and paranoia.

Then I bought and read the Watchmen trade paperback, and shit myself. Not literally, but literarily. I couldn’t believe that the story I’d worked so hard on, for so long, was basically a page-for-page ripoff of the most famous comic book story in the world that I had never previously read. And man, it was way better than what I had been cooking up. My story devolved into a straight-up slugfest…which, to be honest, might be better than an alien invasion uniting all of mankind, but that’s a discussion for another day.

I read somewhere that ideas exist all in the same “idea-space”, which is how similar stories and themes and plots can be created independently of one another. I think that’s true, because, God’s honest truth, I wrote Watchmen (basically) before I read it. Alan Moore and me, you know, great minds think alike.

I never touched that story again, but I did cannibalize the shit out of it, taking the characters and putting them into new stories. The dark avenger type evolved into Spencer Cradle (he even kept the Davidian code-name) and ended up the main character in Knowledge, although he sort of took on the paranoid guy’s personality.

So there you go. The story of me independently creating Watchmen, a good ten or fifteen years after Alan Moore wrote it.

Do yourself a favor and go listen to “Declaration of Conformity” by the Wellwater Conspiracy.

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What I’m working on

Just an update on my comics, for those that are interested. And if you’re not interested, why are you even here?

Instinct is still rolling on. Hugo’s done a few more pages of colors, Sami has given his input on those pages, and ET is waiting patiently to letter them. Should have more to show you in the next little while.

I’m still working on the script for the Apes With Uzis spinoff I’m writing, called Thugs Electro, with Joël Séguin (the artist I’m working with on The Argus…more in a sec.) Rolf has a huge story he wants to have told in this book, and I’m slowing putting the pieces of the puzzle in place to get it ready.

Speaking of the Argus, we might have found a colorist to work on the pitch package…

I’ve still got three books in pitch stage, just waiting to find the right place to send them to, those being my non-quite-superhero book Antihero, the sci-fi/horror story Deep Rest, and the spy thriller-with-a-twist Old Ghost.

I’m at twenty-some pages on the comic I’m tentatively calling NRV (No Redeeming Value), which started slow but is going to explode into an orgy of violence and mayhem. I figure it’ll be a 50-page graphic novella. No artist attached as of yet, but I have a few people in mind…

Something big is happening with Knowledge that I can’t talk about just yet. (Then why mention it? Because I’m a terrible person.)

I had a great idea on a new take on the classic Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde story that I want to start to flesh out.

My brother, who occasionally hits me with random ideas he thinks could get turned into comics or used in the course of a comic, gave me a great idea a few months ago that’s slowly been burning a hole in my brain. Remember the other two guys crucified on the hill with Jesus? Those dudes were actual criminals. What if they didn’t die on the cross? What if they were the first legitimate supervillains in history?

I have an idea for a story that might work as either a comic or a novel, about a man trying to escape through many levels of an insane asylum that’s been taken over by the inmates. I spent a while Wikipedia-ing various survival horror video games, and this was the result.

I want to revive a really old idea of mine, about the world’s first team of superheroes. In my story, though, they were actually criminals who were sent on a suicide mission during the first Gulf War and were caught on camera killing an Iraqi super-soldier, and boom, the world thought they had their first superhuman heroes. It will deal with how the government has to continually spin it so this bunch of degenerate scumbags can keep being presented as heroes to the world at large.

That’s all for today. Just wanted to let you all know I’m still working, even though I admit my pace has slowed down lately. Work’s started to pick up, and I’m finding less time to write. Don’t even mention my crime novel Send Him Round…my girlfriend’s already pissed that I haven’t written anything new lately.

Do yourself a favor and go listen to “The Chemistry of Common Life” by Fucked Up.

My top 10 favorite novels

So I’ve done my favorite comics and my favorite albums, so let’s take a look at my favorite novels. You know, those books without pictures? I read those too, on occasion.

I’m going to rank them 10-1, just because. Also, spoilers, just in case.

10) Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane: I know it got turned into a pretty shitty movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, but the book is pretty fantastic, and totally caught me with the twist at the end. Maybe I’m not as smart as I think, but I really didn’t see it coming. It’s funny, while I was reading it, I pictured the main character as Tom Hanks and his partner as Greg Kinnear. This was one of the first books I read where I could really, fully picture the main characters in my head. This one needs a re-read sometime soon.

9) Watchers by Dean Koontz: I’m not much of a fan of Koontz’s work, but I always loved Watchers. It didn’t have that creepy sexual undertone that most of Koontz’s books seem to have. I love the idea of the super-intelligent dog, and could have read about him just doing stuff for the whole book. The whole conflict with the Outsider seemed pretty ham-fisted (“I hate you because you’re special and I’m ugly”), but some of the stuff with the dog was pretty cool, like him using the Scrabble pieces to spell words.

8) Hell and Gone by Duane Swierczynski: this is the second part of a trilogy, and while the first part (Fun and Games) was pretty good, Hell and Gone totally steps it up. It reads like a cross between a crime novel and a comic book, what with the secret prison and the few specific prisoners, designated the most dangerous prisoners in the world. And the swerve that explains the prison itself it really kind of scary, because I can see how something like that would happen in real life. Looking forward to the third part of the trilogy, Point and Shoot.

7) The Hank Thompson trilogy by Charlie Huston: I’m cheating a bit by putting all three books in this slot, but it’s my list, so fuck off. I absolutely adore these books. Caught Stealing, Six Bad Things, and A Dangerous Man are brilliant crime books, and Huston writes in a very unique style that initially took some getting used to. I love the idea of a loser getting pulled into a bad deal with the Russian mob, getting plastic surgery forced on him, and being turned into a hardcore hitman. I was actually a little bummed out when I read the last line of the last book.

6) American Gods by Neil Gaiman: what can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? It’s so goddamn smart. I love how Gaiman mixes the old Norse gods with the new gods of technology, the god of the internet, etc. That’s a smart idea, and one I never would have thought of. The main character, Shadow, is a very interesting guy, he almost feels like a blank slate some of the time. My favorite part? The characters being able to step “back-stage” and out of reality. God, that’s brilliant.

5) The Dark Half by Stephen King: my second favorite King book. I love this book for many reasons: the little excerpts from the Alexis Machine novels, the distinction between writing with a typewriter (or computer) vs freehand with a pencil, the idea of the psychopomps. I’ve never wanted to write under a pen name, but the thought that there could be a second personality living inside me is kind of interesting…

4) Sacrifice by Andrew Vachss: I love Vachss’ series of Burke novels. I love Burke’s “family”, they’re some of the most interesting characters written in crime novels. My biggest pet peeve with Vachss is that, in a lot of his books, not much happens. Maybe that’s just me, but there’s very little action a lot of the time. Sacrifice is pretty non-stop in the action department, with the satanic cults, the congregation of assassins, Burke training the new kid in his survivalist lifestyle, and the brutal, balls-out massacre at the end. This is the book that made me want to write crime fiction. So now you know who to blame.

3) The Two-Bear Mambo by Joe R Lansdale: I love the Hap and Leonard novels, and I really don’t know for sure this is my favorite, but I think it is. Lansdale writes these two guys so realistically that they feel like old friends. There’s always some great, swift and brutal action, and man…the Hap and Leonard books are fucking funny. Every page has some new saying by one of them, or a new way of stating some obvious fact that would make me laugh. Even with the darker undertones of racism and violence against women, this remains an incredibly funny book. If I had to pick one other Hap and Leonard book that might come close, it would be Rumble Tumble.

2) Critical Space by Greg Rucka: I love the Atticus Kodiak series of books, but this book is by far my favorite, although without reading the books that lead up to it, it might seem like an odd choice. Atticus Kodiak started the series as a professional bodyguard, a guy with a serious set of morals and personal ethics. Through the first few books, he stands pretty strong on his convictions, but after the introduction of the international assassin called Drama, he starts to change. This book sees him get kidnapped by Drama, who wants him to protect her from a rival assassin, and starts to train Atticus to become an assassin himself. The parts that I love the most are the training parts, where Atticus goes through his training regimen and explains how and why he’s doing what he’s doing. “I don’t do pushups because I can’t see a tactical advantage in that position” (I’m paraphrasing). I loved the transition in Kodiak’s character from protector to hunter. I hope Rucka writes a few more Atticus Kodiak novels.

1) The Stand by Stephen King: by far my most favorite book of all time. The Stand has it all, interesting characters, a brilliant underlying concept (that was super original at the time it was written, nowadays I could see the inciting incident from this book happening for real). It’s a long novel, but it never feels like that. The characters are so well-rounded and real. The basic idea of good versus evil is set out so expertly. I re-read the Stand at least once a year, because it’s an investment, when you’re talking about a novel of 1000+ pages. There’s also an incredible feeling of hope that happens in this novel, and I realize how hokey that might sound, but it’s true, you can’t help but feel inspired when you read about the survivors banding together and trying to create a new community. And you can’t help but feel creeped out about Randall Flagg and his Vegas group setting up shop, and the first thing they want to do is find pilots for the leftover Air Force bombers…

That’s the list. It changes fairly often, with the exception of the top two. I don’t know that I’ll ever read something I enjoy more than The Stand.

Do yourself a favor today and listen to “When I Was Cruel” by Elvis Costello.

Creating Characters

One of the best parts of creating comics is creating characters. More often than not, my stories start with the creation of a character, and then I form a story around them. I want to look at a few of my “signature” creations.

Ethan Shade from Breakneck. I had the name Ethan Shade in a file for a long time before I found a chance to use it. The character of Shade began to develop when I needed a goofy character to act as the lone supervillain in Breakneck. I wanted a guy who kinda half-assed his supervillain career, who really didn’t have a lot of ambition, who just wanted to stay out of sight for the most part. Ethan Shade is a lot like me if I had superpowers. From the name Shade, I came up with his shadow-based powers, giving him similar powers to Green Lantern, being able to create solid objects with his shadows. James Boulton created the look for the character, the almost-forgettable black getup with the trench coat over top. His character was designed not to stand out, which was the whole point of Ethan Shade.

 

Abe Connelly from Long Gone. I knew I wanted an old man as the protagonist in this story. I have a soft spot for writing older characters. Abe was inspired by my own grandfather, not in his look, but in his actions, how he views himself, his family, and the world. Another soft spot of mine is characters all dressed in white, and Long Gone artist Ted Pogorzelski nailed his look perfectly, the white suit and panama hat. In the story, Abe is a retired plumber who was once a soldier during the Vietnam War. I felt like that might have been a bit of a cheat, but I needed the character to be able to handle himself, handle the weaponry, and it added to the final scene of the book. Abe is one of my favorite characters, because he has such a black and white viewpoint. Even in the horrific world he finds himself in, his sense of right and wrong is never altered. He never even utters a curse word until the final speech of the book. He’s old school.

Spencer “The Davidian” Cradle from Knowledge. The code-name The Davidian is one I used for many different ideas over the years. I never found the right place to use it until Knowledge came along. In the story, Cradle is a former Intelligence agent who agrees to undergo a procedure to make him super-smart. Things don’t go so well, and he’s forced to retire. The procedure is perfected, and they create a new super-smart agent who goes rogue, forcing Cradle out of retirement to hunt him down. I love Cradle’s attitude. He’s sarcastic and quick-witted but also sometimes very eloquent. He can ramble on with how he would create a profile, and in the next moment he’ll hit on his partner. Jerome Eyquem created the perfect visual for the character: skinny, pale, unkempt, slightly dirty, but with eyes that betray his intelligence. And just wait until you get a look inside Cradle’s head at his monstrous Franken-brain…

Deacon Sands from Ghost Lines. Deacon is kind of a tragic figure, a man kidnapped and experimented on (you know, that old comic book cliché), but he manages to turn what has happened to him against his oppressors. Deacon’s one of my favorite characters, he’s both traumatized by what’s happened to him, but also incredibly capable, aided by the Ghost Lines in righting the wrongs he sees in the world. Deacon’s shaggy, homeless look was created by Carl Yonder, who also managed to create the perfect look for Deacon when everything is turned around at the end of the story. Ghost Lines also has one of my favorite villains in Mordechai Kresge, who I’d love to explore a little bit more down the line.

Dominic “The Monster” Arch from Instinct. The Monster might be a fairly new creation, but I love him just the same. A degenerate sociopathic serial killer, I wanted to bring Arch away from the eloquent and well-spoken type of villain that you see so often. Arch is a brilliant and dangerous individual, but is also ruthless and vicious and obscene. He might dress like a classy gentleman, with his white suit and gloves (yet another white-suited lead character), but he’s a scumbag of the highest order. Arch was brought to life by Instinct artist Sami Kivelä.

True Bastard from Scum of the Earth. When I started writing this story, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do with True. Some of the revelations that occur in the story were revealed to me at the time I was writing them. Almost none of the original character ideas I had when I started SOTE lasted to the final page. The only thing I really wanted to do was experiment with True’s speech patterns, and I really loved how it turned out. But the majority of the character’s development happened in real time as I wrote the comic, and I threw out everything that I thought I knew about him and his motivation. True’s design was based on a few ideas of mine, but mostly came from the mind of artist Rob Croonenborghs, who nailed the character perfectly.

Absolon Danard from Old Ghost. Danard is a very interesting character, the basis of the character and his attitude and style were created by Rolf Lejdegård, and expanded upon by me as I approached writing the story. Danard’s nearly immortal, lives in exile, and is one of the most skilled secret agents on the planet. The back story Rolf created for him is exquisite. His look was designed by Rolf and expanded upon by series artist Olov Redmalm.

The King from Antihero. The King has gone through many changes, design-wise, but the central character has remained the same from day one. The King’s a third generation supervillain, and was raised thinking heroes were the enemy, and that he was better than everyone else. It was a bit of an exploration of the idea of nature vs nurture. Every waking moment of his life was dominated by his father telling him that superheroes were just targets waiting to be shot. The King has no illusions that he’s the villain in the story, but in his mind, that’s not wrong. He’s still the hero in his own story. The original King design came from artist Michael Tyler, who envisioned him as an “evil Nightwing”. Leandro Panganiban designed the second variation of the King’s costume, a more military-inspired outfit, and series artist David Pentecost nailed a perfect combination of both, complete with the King’s classic crown-style domino mask.

I create characters more than anything else. For every comic I’ve written, I’ve created a dozen characters. I’m writing a story right now tentatively called “NRV” (No Redeeming Value) about a group of teenaged superheroes, and creating the characters was so much fun, the actual writing of the comic seemed almost boring. I love reading comics with new characters. Some of the best new characters I’ve read lately have been in comics like Halcyon by Marc Guggenheim and Ryan Bodenheim, or Danger Club by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones.

Even if I never wrote another comic book, I would still be creating characters. I love trying to find that twist on a character, that thing that sets them apart from the thousands of other characters that exist. Sometimes it’s straight up parodies (I had a hell of a lot of fun creating all the characters in Breakneck, and you can pretty much pinpoint which major comic book character I made fun of with each character I wrote.)

And jeez…it’s Monday, less than a month to go until Christmas.

Do yourself a favor and listen to “Koi No Yokan” by Deftones.

Short stories.

(Sorry, I totally spaced and never posted an update yesterday. I hit 50 posts and then all of a sudden I’m like “pffft, fuck it.” But no, not really.)

I may have mentioned it before, but I hate writing short stories. They can be super important and are a great way to work with multiple artists without a major commitment from anyone, and they’re always good for getting your name out there across various channels, but man…I hate writing them. I’m way too wordy, and sometimes I feel my ideas are much better suited to longer-form stories. But short stories are necessary, and despite the fact I don’t enjoy them that much, I’ve written my fair share of them.

Let’s run ‘em down, shall we?

1)      FUBAR: Empire of the Rising Dead, Unit 731, illustrated by Carl Yonder. This was my first short in the second volume of FUBAR, and is the one that made me a legitimate New York Times bestselling author. Yeah, you read that right: NEW. YORK. TIMES. BESTSELLER. That’s some hot shit right there.

2)      FUBAR: American History Z. I have another short in the upcoming third volume of FUBAR. Looking forward to seeing who my collaborator is and how it will look when it’s all done.

3)      Oxymoron, Living Dead, illustrated again by Carl Yonder. This story is part of the Oxymoron hardcover anthology that ran a super successful Kickstarter campaign. Getting to work with Carl again was a treat, and working with my buddies at ComixTribe for the first time, officially, was also great.

4)      Aches and Pains, illustrated by Noel Tuazon. This story will be published in the upcoming 215 Ink anthology, and I couldn’t be more excited to have a story drawn by Noel, who rocked out on Archaia’s Tumor book last year, and is currently the artist on the series Foster. Working with Noel was awesome, because I’m a big fan of his.

5)      Unring the Bell, illustrated by Jerome Eyquem. Jerome is my partner on the Knowledge miniseries, and he and I developed this short sci-fi story together, which will also see print in the 215 Ink anthology.

6)      Leo Cosmos, illustrated by, yep, you guessed it, Carl Yonder. This was Carl’s baby, and he let me play in the Leo sandbox which was a lot of fun. This will also be published in the 215 Ink anthology.

7)      Miasma, illustrated by Lee Lightfoot. This was published in Black Ship Books’ Weird Zombie Horror anthology, and was an interesting story, as it was based on some actual historical fact, with zombies added. This was also my very first ever paid work. So there’s that.

8)      Breakneck: The Last Day of the Ghostwalker, illustrated by Michael Tyler. I once had the great idea to create a Breakneck anthology, with a few short stories illustrated by various artists. That anthology never came to fruition, but I had a few really kickass stories kicking around, and this one will also see print in the 215 Ink anthology.

9)      Breakneck: The Secret History of Captain Stone, illustrated by Carl Yonder. This was another story from the ill-fated Breakneck anthology, but I’ve got plans for this story, looking forward to placing it somewhere.

10)  Breakneck: A Punchup at a Wedding, illustrated by Allen Byrns. The third story from the never-released Breakneck anthology, this one’s an interesting story because it highlights a very specific part of the Breakneck universe. Have plans for this one as well…

11)  Capacity, illustrated by…well, I’m not sure. I originally wrote this story for Jim McMunn, but when Jim got super busy it kind of fell off our radar. Then Jason Copland was looking for a short story to illustrate with a stick (yeah, for real), but Jason’s also super busy, so who knows? But I dig this story, it was inspired by a viewing of Blade Runner one night.

12)  Apes With Uzis: The Package, illustrated by Peebo Mondia. This was the Apes With Uzis story that ran in the 215 Ink Free Comic Book Day offering from this year, the flipbook with Vic Boone.

I think that’s all of them, at least the ones I can think of. Even though I struggle with short stories, and really don’t think that they are my strong suit, I recognize their importance. I know a lot of creators who love shorts, who always have multiple short stories in production, stories that get published in a wide variety of anthologies. For myself, I just feel that, for the most part, I need more space to get my story across. Eight pages is a challenge for me.

That’s it for today, folks. Do yourself a favor and go listen to “Veckatimest” by Grizzly Bear.

Stuff I’ve read recently that I dug.

So…I like comics. I know, you’re saying to yourself “I never would have gotten that impression”, but it’s true. I like comics. A lot. I especially like reading new comics, getting exposed to new talent. So here’s a list of stuff I’ve read and dug recently (and no, these aren’t all new creators, maybe just new to me.)

Dancer by Nathan Edmonson and Nic Klein. I really liked this story, I’d heard a lot about this book but never read any of the single issues (I’m a trade paperback kinda guy for the most part), but I was impressed. I was already a fan of both of these guys, Edmonson for his Who Is Jake Ellis series, and Klein from his Viking book.

Danger Club by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones. This is a fantastic book. The kind of superhero story I want to write. In fact, I hate these guys for making this book, because it’s so good. Violence, secret agendas, bloodthirsty sidekicks, and Eric Jones has some unreal art. Definitely a winner for me.

Olympus by Nathan Edmonson and Christian Ward. Okay, I know I’m a few years behind on this one, but I picked up the trade recently and really liked it. I liked the idea of using the old Greek/Roman history and shoving it into the present. And Ward has some pretty whacked out artwork in this. Pretty awesome.

Hell Yeah by Joe Keatinge and Andre Szymanowicz. Again, Hell Yeah is the kind of comic I want to write, so I hate these guys too. Dimension travelling mixed with the slacker children of the first generation of superheroes mixed with some punk rock and people getting killed with swords. I also love how the book incorporates the title and story title into the pages as they progress. Lots of fun. Know what else is awesome? You can read one page Tiger Lawyer strips by my buddy Ryan Ferrier. Tiger Lawyer is awesome.

Choker by Ben McCool and Ben Templesmith. First, you get Templesmith on anything and it’s awesome, but McCool’s story is pretty great too. I love the idea of the ‘alien hand’; it’s super creepy because I can picture it happening to me.

The Victories by Michael Oeming. I’ve always dug Oeming artwork, since I read the first issue of Powers, but never read anything he’d written. Man, he’s just as good a writer as he is an artist! I love this book, the kind of screwed-up team book that I love to read. I never bought into groups like the Avengers all getting along. I prefer a team with some strife and in-fighting. This has all of that and more.

Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors by Mark Andrew Smith and Armand Villavert. This is just a great idea for a comic. The children of the world’s supervillains all going to school to learn how to be supervillains? That shit writes itself. Another idea I wish I’d thought of. Man, all you guys need to stop making such awesome comics for a while…

Graveyard of Empires by Mark Sable and Paul Azaceta. I admit, I bought this strictly for the Azaceta artwork…but the story was awesome too. Zombies in the Middle East. The Taliban rising from the dead and devouring their way through US forces. I can’t even really do it justice; you should really check it out.

Near Death by Jay Faerber and Simone Guglielmini. Again, I admit to having picked up the issues of Near Death for the Murder Book backups by my buddies Ed Brisson and Jason Copland, but I totally got sucked into this book. A hitman who dies and comes back to life two minutes later after having gone to hell and having seen all the people he’s killed decides save a life for every one he’s killed, so he doesn’t end up back in hell. It’s such a brilliant high concept. Wish I’d thought of it.

Harvest by AJ Lieberman and Colin Lorimer. I really dug Lieberman’s Term Life book, and was interested to see what he’d do next. Harvest is a pretty disturbing book, but it’s also utterly fascinating. A comic book about black market organ harvesting? It’s like the comic book equivalent of a slasher movie where someone gets left in a motel bathtub full of ice, missing their internal organs. Creepy and unsettling and fantastic.

Here’s something interesting: Every single one of these books is a creator-owned book, and with the exception of The Victories (published by Dark Horse) these are all comics published by Image Comics. There was a time in my life when everything I bought was Marvel or DC. Now almost everything I buy is creator owned. There’s two reasons for that. One: creator-owned comics are a risk, and anyone willing to take that risk deserves to be rewarded for it. Any one of the creators on that list could get a gig at Marvel or DC and get well-paid for writing one of the established books, but they would rather create something of their own. I respect the absolute hell out of that, and every single book here, and every single book Image publishes, inspires me to want to create more of my own properties.

I think, right now, we’re in the age of the Creator. When you have some of the biggest guns in the industry working on their own books (Grant Morrison on “Happy”, Ed Brubaker’s “Fatale”, Jonathan Hickman on “Manhattan Projects” and “Secret”, the list goes on), that’s a pretty good sign of where the interest in the industry lies, and where the industry is slowing starting to turn.

There’s a bunch of books coming out in the next little while I’m psyched for too: I Love Trouble by Kel Symons and my buddy Mark Robinson; I can’t wait to get a copy of the Grim Leaper trade by Kurtis J Wiebe and Alusio Santos; Clone by David Schulner with art by Juan Jose Ryp (who I love); the Hoax Hunters trade by Michael Moreci, Steve Seeley, and Axel Medellin; and of course, hitting shelves tomorrow: Comeback by my buddy Ed Brisson with art by Michael Walsh.

Now’s the time for Creators and for Creator-Owned. I’m glad to plunk down my hard-earned dollars to support these guys. Hell, I’m proud to plunk down my hard-earned dollars. These guys are out there doing the damn thing. Congrats to all of you.

Do yourself a favor and listen to “Ire Works” by the Dillinger Escape Plan.

My 10 Favorite Warren Ellis comics

I am a huge fan of Warren Ellis. I own every major release the man has uh…released, as well as some of the smaller, lesser-known stuff. He’s probably the biggest inspiration for my own work there is. His work on the Authority was what got me back into comics again after I’d stepped away for a little while.

That said, I’m going to run down my 10 favorite Warren Ellis comics. Here we go…

10) Desolation Jones. The art by J.H. Williams III might alone be enough to make this a favorite, but the story is classic Ellis: Michael Jones is a washed up alcoholic British intelligence agent who think he’s been invited into a simple research study, but is subjected to a process called the “Desolation Test”, which forced him to stay awake for a year while being subjected to non-stop images of violence and death. This resulted in his body and mind being warped, and he ends up a frail figure that is almost remorseless and quick to violence. He’s sent to Los Angeles after the test, which is a secret “open prison” for former intelligence agents. They have the run of the city, but aren’t permitted to leave. Jones becomes an official private investigator in LA, working jobs on behalf of the other prisoners. His job in the first story arc is to recover the private porn films of Adolf Hitler.

9) Nextwave: Agents of HATE. Again, Ellis gets all the best illustrators, and this time around he’s got Stuart Immonen riding shotgun, before he hit it big with Avengers and Fear Itself, using a more cartoony style that’s perfectly suited to the inane material. Nextwave follows a bunch of D-list Marvel heroes as they strike back at their former employer, the SHIELD-analogue called HATE. This is probably Ellis’ most blatantly funny story, with dozens of laugh-out-loud moments, like when Monica Rambeau, the former Captain Marvel, has a flashback to working with Captain America, who tells her to “go back to Avengers mansion and make my dinner”. But my favorite character here is The Captain, who is retconned into being every shitty Captain-Something character in Marvel history, a guy who gets given incredible powers by a pair of aliens who he then proceeds to beat the shit out of in a drunken rampage.

8) The Apparat Singles Group. Ellis created a brand new group of titles, each with their first issue – with no issues to follow, apparently ever, which was the point. The reason why I have this on my list of favorites is because of the title Simon Spector, with art by Jacen Burrows. Spector is a crime-fighter in the pulp tradition of the Shadow or Doc Savage, a guy who takes specially-designed drugs to make him “think faster” and determine the outcome of his cases in a matter of moments. He can also kick ass and take names. I love the setup of the Apparat titles, it’s something I’d love to try, to create a series of first issues of non-existent titles.

7) Fell. This time Ellis teams with Ben Templesmith to create a pretty fascinating bunch of crime stories centered on disgraced detective Richard Fell, who gets assigned to work in the fictitious city of Snowtown, a place where crime rules, the police are barely there, and strange things happen all over the place. The design of Fell is what I love, all done-in-one stories and a pretty rigid 9-panel grid setup for each page, which is especially interesting when you’re working with a guy like Templesmith, who could easily bang out 22 splash pages and make a brilliant looking comic.

6) Global Frequency. Goddamn, I love this comic. The Global Frequency is a loose collective of 1000 agents, all with their own special talents and expertise. The idea is that anyone could be an agent of the Global Frequency, your best friend or that guy you don’t like at work. The series was 12 issues long, each issue illustrated by a different artist. And as always, Ellis gets the best of the best here. Glenn Fabry illustrates one of my favorite stories in the series, about a realistic take on a cyborg, how the integration of metal and cybernetic parts into a regular person’s body would affect you. It’s a pretty brilliant idea, looking at the outcome of severely modifying someone’s body and brain.

5) The Authority. As I mentioned, I got back into comics with the Authority. Ellis’ run on the Authority, the original 12 issues, is one of my favorite superhero runs ever. The creation of the team out of the ashes of Stormwatch Black, some of the classic Midnighter lines, the staggeringly good Bryan Hitch artwork, and the way the Authority decide to use their superhuman abilities all made me look at superhero comics in a new way. I think some of the following takes on the Authority got it all wrong, focusing mainly on the fact that Apollo and the Midnighter were gay. That seemed to become a major focal point for the series after Ellis left. (I do like some what Mark Millar did with the Authority too, and him having Frank Quitely on board didn’t hurt either.)

4) Red. Yeah, it got turned into a not-too-bad movie with Bruce Willis, but the original 3-issue miniseries is really pretty fantastic on its own. I love secret agents, I love the idea of retired secret agents coming out of retirement to kick more ass. The story is about Paul Moses, who was once a top government assassin, now retired and living a quiet life. With the election of a new president, the new director of the CIA is shown top secret footage of Moses in action, he decides Moses needs to die so none of the horrific secrets ever get leaked. That just pisses Paul Moses off, and he reactivates himself and starts killing his way back to his new CIA handlers. And Cully Hamner’s art is incredible.

3) Black Summer. I think Ellis really started to cut loose when he started doing books at Avatar. Some of this stuff feels really “no holds barred”. Black Summer is about the Seven Guns, a group of self-appointed crimefighters who all modified their own bodies to a superhuman level. One of the group, a nearly indestructible man named John Horus, murders the president in the openings pages, and the rest of the series deals with the fallout of that action for his former teammates. The best part is all the science involved, Ellis makes it seem plausible and realistic that each of these people could actually create their own superpowers. The Juan Jose Ryp art is stunning as well. This guy is like Geof Darrow on crack.

2) No Hero. Ellis’ second collaboration at Avatar with Juan Jose Ryp, No Hero is a look at creating superhumans through drugs. The Front Line are the world’s only known superhumans, but someone’s started to kill them off. In order to fill out their roster, they bring in a young, idealistic local vigilante, and shit goes right off the rails. The idea of creating superhumans through drugs is explored with as much detail as the body-modification stuff is explored in Black Summer. God, these are such great books. Black Summer and No Hero are consistently being re-read, they’re that good.

1) Planetary/Transmetropolitan. Without a doubt, my favorite Ellis work is Planetary. Or Transmetropolitan. I can’t decide, so they both sit at number one. Planetary is a mind-boggling piece of work that makes me want to forever give up writing comics when I read it, because I know nothing I attempt will ever be as perfect a comic book as this is. Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner and the Drummer are Planetary, archaeologists of the unknown. They work to uncover the secret history of their world, which incorporates analogues of classic comic books stories, like the creation of the Hulk, Thor’s hammer, or the four scientists who go into space and come back different. There were a lot of scheduling issues with the end of the series, but man, when you read it all together, it’s a brilliant piece of work that remains one of my favorite stories ever. I met John Cassaday a few years ago at a convention, and as he signed my Planetary hardcovers, I asked him if Warren was as much of a madman as he seems. “Sort of, but not really, he’s really a nice guy” was Cassaday’s answer. But he was sweating while he said it, like Ellis might have been watching…

And Transmetropolitan? I think this is the longest work Ellis ever did, and yet again he gets the best art possible in the form of Darick Robertson. Transmet is all about renegade journalist Spider Jerusalem as he reports on/investigates the upcoming Presidential election with the aid of his filthy assistants. It’s hard to describe Transmet. It needs to be read to be understood. There are moments of “holy shit, I can’t believe he just wrote that”, right alongside some genuinely heartwarming parts. Transmet covers a full range of emotions, and as much of an asshole as Spider is, you can’t help but root for him, and hope he shoots everyone with his bowel disruptor.

If you haven’t read any of the titles listed above, you really should check them out. Also worth mentioning is Ellis’ novel, “Crooked Little Vein”, and his eager-anticipated new novel “Gun Machine” due out early next year.

Do yourself a favor and go listen to “The Boatman’s Call” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.