Comic Book Day. The event came and went across the nation, a
chance for everyone to snag a bunch of free books and the
opportunity to talk to some local comic gurus.
As you already knew, I dropped into NightFlight on State for some pictures on Saturday, and got to talk to most of the artists and writers who were there for the event. Since all the interviews are a tad lengthy, we're going to split this up into two parts this week. Today we start off with local graphic designer and Pirate Club creator Derek Hunter, followed by TMNT writer and Elders Of The RuneStone creator Quinn Johnson.
Gavin: Hey Derek. Tell us a little about yourself.
Derek: Well, I live downtown with my wife and dog and mostly work from home as a graphic designer/storyboard artist for a lot of locally produced films. It's a good job cause there’s a lot of downtime between projects for me to work on comics and other illustration projects.
Gavin: For those who don't know, what is Pirate Club?
Derek: Pirate Club is a story about a small group of kids who shun the mundane video game and TV-filled lifestyle of their peers and search for adventure on the high seas... or series of rivers and creeks as their town's case is. Along the way they run into, and must battle rival clubs and gangs who would impede their efforts in becoming the most dreaded group of 5th graders in all of Sycamore Valley. It's a fun book... but definitely not for all-ages.
Gavin: How did you get into drawing comics for a living?
Derek: Well, I don't actually have the luxury of doing it for a living, but I must admit I enjoy the freedom of doing comics at my own pace and without the watchful eye of an editor... not that my editor is intimidating or anything, she's actually pretty swell.
Gavin: How did Pirate Club come about as an idea and eventually to publication?
Derek: It's funny because I originally didn't even plan on doing much with it beyond drawing a few issues here and there as I saw fit. The idea for the book sprung forth of an atypically exciting adventure in 2001, when my friends and I were all gearing up for the dreaded "adulthood", so we just did a lot of screwing around and being immature. So immature that we even dubbed ourselves the Pirate Club. A couple of weeks after settling into my new job, I decided to draw a comic celebrating the spirit of that summer and issue 1 of Pirate Club was a result. I initially just self published a few hundred copies to sell locally and give to friends, but luckily my buddies pressured me to send it to artists and publishers whose work I admired, and Dan Vado of Slave Labor Graphics quickly responded with an offer to publish. Needless to say, I snatched up the offer!
Gavin: Do you enjoy the cult following that's behind it, or do you wish it had a bigger audience?
Derek: I really do enjoy my fanbase. They are small, but enthusiastic. They've made Pirate Club short films, fan fiction, fan art, and a fan even once made me a treasure chest filled with goodies. It is fun having people care about your work so enthusiastically, but of course it would be nicer to reach a wider audience.
Gavin: A little on publication, do you have an idea of when the next arc for Pirate Club will be coming?
Derek: It's hard to say. I love, love, LOVE Pirate Club and have about 15 issues worth of new material ready to go, but I also feel like I've done that already and need to do some new things. I just finished the first issue of "Lobster Ladd", a story of a boy searching the depths of the abyss for his marine biologist parents who were captured by nefarious sea creatures, each of whom he defeats with the help of a sushi chef eagerly awaiting the spoils of each battle. "Lobster Ladd" debuted at Stumptown Convention in Portland over the last weekend in April. I also have a recurring serial in Image Comics' "Popgun" anthology called Gamma Rae, which is basically a Power Puff Girls style story about a girl ridding the world of monsters so the human population can return from the moon, back to earth.
Gavin: A friend of mine asked about the Manny Golden book, what's the status on that?
Derek: I spent a lot of time co-writing that with a friend, and I got about 60 pages into the art and 120 pages into the script when he pooped out on the project and it really bummed me out not to have him on board, so it's kind of waiting to be worked on. I really like it a lot, and my wife thinks I should finish it, but we'll see. I may release the first 60 pages just to get me movin’ on the next 60.
Gavin: A while ago I read the series was being turned more towards "all-ages" friendly. What's the progress with that?
Derek: It was an idea I toyed with, but ultimately dropped. I developed Lobster Ladd and Gamma Rae as a means to flex my all-ages writing muscles.
Gavin: I was told you did some work with Nickelodeon?
Derek: I actually haven't done anything for them, although I have been introduced to their comics editor many times and still threaten to throw something together periodically.
Gavin: I also understand you did some stuff with Disney. How was that experience?
I've been doing freelance design work for Disney for about 4 years
now, working with the art department on the live action films shot
here in Salt Lake. I enjoy it a lot; I get to work with a lot
of really fun people.
Gavin: I may be confused with another guy, but I believe you worked on "High School Musical 2." What was that like?
Derek: Yeah, I am actually working on the 3rd one right now and worked on the first one as well. I mostly work from home though, so I can't really say much about the actors, or the set, as I was rarely there.
Gavin: I have two fan questions; I hope you're not offended. First, will we ever see the "death bed" from Skid Marks 2 again?
Derek: I hadn't really thought of it, but it would be fun to try and see the Pirate Club use a bed as a means of destruction, no?
Gavin: Second, is Mike really half ninja half pirate, and if so does it make Mike a traitor to his own causes?
Derek: I think this is something you will see more of as the series picks back up. I don't want to go into it, though.
Gavin: What have you got planned down the road this year?
Derek: Just more comics! I plan on doing 4 more issues of Lobster Ladd before November, hopefully, as well as a new Gamma Rae story for Popgun volume 3. Plus, I am working on putting together an anthology collecting the works of established and aspiring comics creators living along the Wasatch front (hopefully to be released in time for the Alternative Press Expo in November), so anyone reading this who is interested in having a 1-6 page story reviewed for submission, feel free to send me an e-mail! firstname.lastname@example.org
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug while we're here?
Derek: Just be sure to check out Popgun Volume 1 from Image Comics for my 15 page Gamma Rae story, and the Issues of Skid Marks and Lobster Ladd available at Night Flight Comics!
Gavin: What's up Quinn. Tell us a little about yourself.
Quinn: Well, I guess it all started back in the cold winter of 1978. It was below zero when I came rushing into the world... Just kidding. I'm a native of Salt Lake City and have lived here most of my life. I lived in Georgia for five years: two years serving a church mission, three years attending the Savannah College of Art and Design, where I graduated with a BFA in Sequential Art, the study of the comics style of storytelling. I currently work as a graphic designer, and do freelance comics and other work. I also really like chili dogs.
Gavin: How did you get into comics and what were some of your first breaks?
Quinn: I don't remember what really started me into comics; I've loved them as long as I can remember. I was always making up my own stories and drawing pictures of superheroes and monsters, so it was always totally my thing. When I discovered the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics from Mirage Studios by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, I was totally hooked. My lifelong love for the Ninja Turtles actually led to my first big break, which was writing the January 2007 issue of the current Tales Of The TMNT series, a total dream come true. Since then, I've been tapped to write a story for the upcoming Scrapyard Detectives anthology and have been self-publishing the Elders Of The RuneStone series, which is starting to take off.
Gavin: For those who don't know, what is Elders Of The RuneStone and how did it get started?
Quinn: Elders Of The RuneStone is a story I've been working on most of my life. It's an epic action-adventure story about five teenagers from vastly different backgrounds and social standings in their high school who accidentally receive superhuman abilities from a glowing "rune stone" and are forced to work together to move forward. As their unlikely friendship grows, they must unravel the mystery of the origin and purpose of their powers while facing some truly scary and powerful new enemies. It's like a cross between “Heroes” and “The Breakfast Club” -- about 50% butt-kicking action and 50% character drama as it gets into the teens' lives and their relationships. There's kung fu, horror, romance, mystery... pretty much anything that's cool.
Gavin: How did the idea of Elders come about and eventually into publication?
Quinn: The initial idea just sort of popped into my head during my 9th grade Physical Science class. I had this mental image of a huge, muscular 12-foot giant (without a nose) dressed in a T-shirt and jeans with a cute teenage girl riding on his back. They'd just busted a hole through the wall of a high school hallway and were looking out through it warily, as if expecting danger. The whole idea of regular teens with the pressures of life on their shoulders, getting superhuman powers and working together...it just struck a chord with me. It's been developing ever since. I did some concept art over the years and finally while at SCAD I started writing out the actual script. While at the school I also met comic artist Robert Atkins (who is currently drawing the Heroes web-comic) and as our friendship grew, he became the official series artist. Over the last few years of work, the series is finally being released on our website. We are also currently shopping around for a publisher to release the story in traditional printed form.
Gavin: What do you think of your success with Elders so far?
Quinn: It's very thrilling! To have something that's so close to you then be highly praised by others...well, it's just way exciting. I have to say that Robert's art, Rick Ketcham's and Joey Stone's inks, and Bob Pedroza's colors give the series a phenomenal look. I am very fortunate to work with such talented and great guys. As the series continues to unfold, I look forward to more great success down the road. (We're actually working on the movie adaptation right now too.)
Gavin: You've worked on Tales Of The TMNT. What was that like?
Quinn: Totally awesome. Like I said, I've always been a huge fan of the Ninja Turtles. Not only do the comics have awesome action and weirdness, but the characters are very engaging. So to be able to write a story that's become part of the official canon is a lifelong dream realized. It was also very cool to work with comics legends Steve Murphy as the series editor and Turtles co-creator Peter Laird, working back and forth with them to revamp and fine-tune the story. They are super cool, down to earth, and of course very talented.
Gavin: Did you feel like you needed to keep close to the original stories, or feel it was more fun to experiment with the characters?
Quinn: Well, I am always one who likes to really draw upon the rich past of the original stories and then add some new aspects to them that are exciting and revelatory. So while I did stay close to the history and tone of the source material, I got to play around a bit and do some things with the characters that I wanted to see. That's one thing that's so great about the Tales Of The TMNT series as opposed to the mainstay Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series -- Mirage Publishing brings in all these outside artists and writers and lets them play around with the Turtles universe, inserting adventures that happened somewhere in the characters' lives, some of them building on or putting a new spin on older stories, some of them all-new stories. It's just a fantastic creative environment that Mirage has really encouraged.
Gavin: What was it like to write for Casey Jones, knowing the kind of audience that character has?
Quinn: Oh man, Casey Jones has always been one of my favorites. He's just such a cool character, like a blue-collar superhero, a normal guy who has the skills and courage to kick some butt while wearing a hockey mask. Because he's kind of a tough, thick-headed everyday-Joe kind of guy, he tends to be stuck in the "comic relief" role. That's not a bad thing, but I wanted to get deeper into his inner self: his nobility, his fears, and his love for his family. Make him more of a multi-faceted, powerful character. I guess that the fans of Casey for the most part wanted the same thing, because I've had more than one say it was their favorite issue of Tales.
Gavin: Who are some writers you recommend people check out in comics today?
Quinn: I'm a big fan of Mike Mignola and his Hellboy and B.P.R.D. series; just the perfect blend of horror, weirdness, humor, and humanity. Jeff Smith's Bone series is incredible -- funny, adventurous, and heartbreaking all at the same time; I'm totally going to share it with my kids some day. Another few that come immediately to mind are Steve Murphy, Jim Lawson, and Tristan Jones, all who are Ninja Turtles alumni. Did I mention that I like Ninja Turtles?
Gavin: What's your opinion on comics today, both good and bad?
Quinn: I think that comics have come a long way, in that the art and storytelling just seem to get better all the time. It's great to live in a time where the comics medium is finally starting to get recognition as a valid art form that can be just as important and powerful and entertaining as the best books and motion pictures. There are incredibly talented people in the comics profession these days, putting out very powerful and amazing material. On the bad side, I also think that in the push for more mature themes in comics, the fun and goodness that gets many kids into comics for the first time often gets lost. There are a lot of comics out there that seem to think that putting in graphic violent and sexual content and profanity automatically makes them "better." Like sleaze for sleaze's sake. Not to say all comics with mature themes are bad, but there's a difference between poignant and degrading.
Gavin: If you had to make a top five, what are your most favorite comics to date?
Quinn: Gosh, that's a hard one. So many great ones to choose from! Personally my favorites are probably Ninja Turtles, Tales Of The TMNT, Hellboy, B.P.R.D., and Batman.
Gavin: What have you got planned ahead this year?
Quinn: Well there's the Scrapyard Detectives story, another Tales Of The TMNT pitch, and of course a lot more Elders Of The RuneStone coming out, plus as mentioned the movie pitch for that! It's an exciting year that's only going to get better!
Gavin: Anything you'd like to plug while we're here?
Quinn: I've plugged my own stuff enough, so check out Robert Atkins' work on the “Heroes” web-comic, as well as his Forgotten Realms work for Devil's Due Publishing.