If there's only one thing you know about horror, it should be the knowledge that as long as there are obsessed fans of the undead, there will always be a place for zombies in pop culture. Whether its the agonizing despair of the possible apocalypse staring ourselves, the no-win scenarios that mostly seem to happen in malls with groups who can't stand each other, or the mildly psychotic joy of wanting to take people out with a shotgun and not go to jail, the zombie culture will sustain for years. Recently we saw one of our very own localized comic books taking their own spin on it for their debut issue.
Formed out of two writers and an animator, the local comic book publishers Crowbar Media got together to pen and ink a black and white novel by the name of The Strangler Brothers. Focusing around two siblings who own an auto repair shop who become unexpected fighters overnight. A concept so promising that it managed to get the group a spot at the San Diego Comic Con, as pictured below, with plans in the works for more issues battling other paranormal creatures. I got a chance to chat with the trio behind the series, talking about their careers and creating the book, plus thoughts on localized comics and a few other topics.
Josh Frankovich, Judge Leverich & Melinda Davidson
Gavin: Hey everyone! First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Judge: I grew up here in SLC, graduated from Judge Memorial High School in ’94, graduated from the University of Utah with a B.S. in Sociology/Criminology in ’00. I am a diehard mountain biker; raced downhill mountain bikes for a few years. When not riding my bikes I love to backpack throughout Europe. I’m also the president of the Rogue Cavaliers Brigade, the premiere Real Salt Lake supporters group.
Josh: Born in Great Falls, Montana. Moved to Salt Lake in 1990. I graduated high school, started college as an engineering major, got bored, and got a job that gave me a discount on movies and video games so I could practice for my real career, Zombie Expert.
Melinda: I live in Sandy, I went to Salt Lake Community College and graduated with an Associates in Animation/Multimedia and an Associates in General Studies. After, I transferred to BYU and graduated with a BFA in Animation. I love all aspects of film and animation. I specialize in Character Design and Storyboarding.
Gavin: How did each of you first get interested in comics, and what were some of your favorite titles growing up?
Judge: Some of the first books that I can remember my parents giving me were comics. My mom would try to read them to me, but I just wanted to look at the pictures and come up with my own stories. My favorites growing up were Captain America, Batman/Superman, GI Joe and The Black Panther.
Josh: I mostly read MAD Magazine growing up but I really gained an interest for comics during the Superman/Doomsday era.
Melinda: When I was a kid I loved the Garfield comic strip in the Sunday paper. When the "X-Men" TV series came out in the 90’s I loved the character Gambit. I wanted to know more about the character so I went around to local comic book shops to find the Gambit comic books. Over time I collected every single issue.
Gavin: Judge and Josh, what first got the two of you involved with writing, and specifically scripting?
Judge: For me it was the love of writing and the love of film. I have always liked to tell stories and writing has always come natural to me.
Josh: I've always enjoyed writing since high school. Less so when it was non-fiction, but I still made do. We started writing scripts when we came up with a funny story for a movie we wanted to submit to our corporate headquarters.
Gavin: How was it for you both creating different works and learning the ropes to storytelling?
Judge: I had a lot of great teachers throughout high school that really nurtured my writing development. I also think that by reading a lot of books, comics and watching a lot of movies growing up had a very large impact on my storytelling and writing.
Josh: Not bad actually. I find story ideas come very easily to me and I'm able to see what I want as I'm working.
Gavin: Melinda, what made you pursue animation and drawing, and what was it like for you honing your craft and perfecting your designs?
Melinda: I loved animation as a kid, I would sit in front of the TV on Saturday mornings and just watch cartoons. I would video tape shows that I liked, pause it on a frame I liked, then I would try to draw it in my sketchbook. Then when Disney started coming out with their movies on video cassettes, I would do the same thing as well. Also, my sister would draw all the time, and I wanted to do everything my sister was doing so I tried to draw things just like she did. In 7th grade I remember my teacher telling me that I was drawing on a 12th grade level. So I knew that I had something special. In Junior High and High School I would doodle in class all the time. I loved that someone could take a drawing of a character and bring it to life with animation. After graduating High School in 2000 I knew I wanted to work in Animation somehow. I heard that there was a new program at Salt Lake Community that was dedicated to Animation, so I went there and learned a lot about the fundamentals of animation and design for animation. After graduating Salt Lake Community College in 2004 I got into the Animation Program at Brigham Young University. While there I refined my skills and really figured out what areas of animation I wanted to specialize in. My specialties are 3-D character animation, character design and storyboarding. BYU’s Animation program is great, they have great faculty and they are always bringing in Industry Professionals from studios like Pixar, Dreamworks and Sony to come talk to the class, review portfolios and give us inspiration.
Gavin: You got your BFA in Animation from BYU, and have actually been involved with a few animation and film organizations. How has it been trying to make a living off your talent and making your way around to different companies?
Melinda: When I was at BYU I got an internship at Avalanche Studios doing Character Animation. Then I graduated from BYU in 2008 and have been looking for work ever since. It has been tough, I have done a few freelance projects here and there, but nothing real solid. I have applied at many Animation Studios and have received many rejection letters, but I just have to keep trying. There is a lot of competition out there with so many animation schools popping up everywhere and learning tools being so accessible over the internet.
Gavin: How did the three of you meet each other and eventually become friends?
Judge: We meet each other through work and became friends through the common interest of movies, zombies, comics and the desire to want to make movies.
Josh: Mostly by being forced to work with each other somehow. I didn't really give either of them a choice in the matter. I made them be my friends.
Melinda: We all met at work and then we would all go see movies. After seeing a movie, we would talk about it and critique it.
Gavin: When did the idea come about to do the Strangler Brothers comic?
Judge: Back in 2008 Josh and I decided to take a movie idea that we had been working on and get Melinda involved to help turn it into a comic. The three of us were sitting in a theater waiting for the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight" when Josh and I started telling Melinda about our idea. She got out her water colors and began drawing up some quick sketches of our ideas. Right then and there I knew we had something special and the right team to pull it off.
Josh: Back when Judge and I were working on scripts, I had a dream about a story of two brothers fighting the things that go bump in the night. Thinking it'd make a great movie I told Judge about it. He came up with the name that night and we brought Melinda in on it during the premiere of "The Dark Knight".
Melinda: I overheard Josh and Judge talking about two brothers that run an autobody shop by day and then go out and fight creatures and zombies at night. I told then that I could draw some stuff up for them and the rest is history.
Gavin: What was the process like in developing the comic, both story and animation wise?
Judge: With the story Josh and I had been bouncing the main ideas off one another for a few months, but once we had Melinda on board I decided it was time to sit down and bust out a script. Not knowing if it was something that would take off I decided to go all out on the first story. We then decided to go back and split the story into two parts.
Josh: More difficult than expected to be honest. Between writing, editing, and drawing, there were a lot of ideas and opinions being thrown around and a lot of time required to make it all happen. Working full time jobs didn't help matters.
Melinda: Judge would write the script and then we would all get together and go over it. Josh would add some funny dialogue and I would draw up thumbnails for the comic. After the story was finalized I would start drawing up the pages, from sketch to finished product. After, I would add the dialogue and the sound effects. It is a long process, 10% is writing it, 90% is drawing it.
Gavin: What made you guys decide to do a single massive issue for the premiere as opposed to drawing it out as a series over time?
Judge: One reason was we wanted to hook the reader, the other was we had no idea if it would take off and more would follow. With the three of us working full time jobs it can be challenging to find the time to dedicate to this.
Josh: I thought that graphic novels were the way to go since we could actually have them carried by retailers like Barnes & Nobles and Borders. We also avoided the constraints of comics beginning and ending in very few pages.
Gavin: This past summer you actually had a booth at the San Diego Comic Con and sold issues to the public. What was that experience like for all of you?
Judge: It was quite surreal seeing all the people walking around dressed up. I only had a very limited time to see much of the show, but the best part was walking around the Small Press area and getting to know the other exhibitors around us. It was also quite gratifying talking with people from movie studios and TV shows that like what we are doing and want to keep in touch.
Josh: It was amazing. Seeing all the people and the sights was a blast and the connections we made were priceless. It was like a drug when a big company came by to talk to us.
Melinda: I had been to the San Diego Comic-Con the year before and thought, "I could have a booth here someday." Then it happened this year, it was incredible. It was great getting our comic out there and showing it to people and seeing their faces light up when we tell them that our comic is like a cross between "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Supernatural". It was also a lot of fun talking to big name people from big studios when they would come by.
Gavin: What's the plan from here for the issue and its release? And are there any other projects you're working on at the moment you care to share about?
Judge: Right now we are working on the 2nd part of our origins story and looking to work with a publisher for a national release.
Josh: I'm hoping to generate some interest with the current issue and hopefully have people remember us if we make it to SDCC next year. It's a bit surreal having good feedback from something I care about as much as this project.
Melinda: Just waiting on rewrites for part two. In the meantime I am working on an artbook of my work and a few children’s book ideas.
Gavin: Going local for a moment, what is your take on the current local comic scene and the books coming out of it?
Josh: To be honest, I'm not really sure. Having only recently gotten back into comics, I haven't had much of an opportunity to see and meet anyone from Utah.
Melinda: There are only a few books I have seen come out, but they are fantastic!
Gavin: Who are some local artists and writers you believe people should check out?
Melinda: Derek Hunter is a local artist/writer working on a webcomic called Pirate Club. Also, Sarah Partington who is doing artwork for a graphic novel called Mortifera which is written by Stephan Frost. Finally, there is C.K. Edwards and A.J. Bell who are working on a comic called Pocket Hole.
Gavin: Going national, what's your take on the comic book industry as it stands right now?
Judge: It seems like the big driving force behind a lot of it is coming from the film and television industry. Just today I went to see the movie "RED" and I was shocked at the number of people my parent’s age that were there! It is very cool seeing the number of movies and television shows coming out that are based on comics.
Josh: With the movie industry taking such an interest in the stories being produced right now, I'd say it's going great.
Melinda: I think that it has changed quite a bit in the past few years. More and more Film studios are turning to comics for movie ideas. More Comic book artists and writers are getting noticed because of this. Movies like Kick-Ass, History of Violence, Road to Perdition, The Dark Knight, Scott Pilgrim vs the World and many more were all based on comic books. They have great stories and great art that both translate into live action films. There are also more webcomics and people self publishing their comic books for the world to see. And now apps for the iphone where you can read your favorite comic book anywhere. It is a growing medium and it will be great to see where else comic books can go in the future.
Gavin: What would you say are some of the best series in print right now?
Judge: Nemesis, The Walking Dead, Kick-Ass, Red Moon and Rob Hanes Adventures are a few that I like.
Josh: I've been gone far too long so I can't rightfully say. I have, however, seen "The Walking Dead" on AMC and I loved the movie "RED", so I'm going to pick those up as soon as possible.
Melinda: Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido. Lackadaisy by Tracy J. Butler. The Astounding Wolf-Man. "Lucha Libre".
Gavin: What are your thoughts on digital publishing and how some books are now going strictly to that format?
Judge: I think it is alright, but nothing will ever beat holding a comic in ones hands and actually turning the page.
Josh: I think it's great. We had original started sharing our work on our website to generate interest before the book was published. It really allows the readers to enjoy the work much faster than they would while waiting for the issue to be printed. That's great for people like myself who lack patience. Plus it saves on paper. Wink wink!
Melinda: There are pros and cons to it. I love that you can take your books wherever you go with your digital devices, but nothing beats having that actual book in your hands.
Gavin: Where do you see the state of comics over the next couple of years?
Judge: I think it will still be the go to place for Hollywood.
Josh: On the up and up. It seems a lot of comics and graphic novels are becoming movies these days.
Melinda: I think more movies studios will look to them for source material and I believe that more people will be creating and self publishing comics.
Gavin: What can we expect from you three over the rest of the year?
Judge: We are planning to be back down at Comic-Con with the 2nd part of our origins story and hopefully get it published nationally.
Josh: We'd really like to get the next 1-3 stories out and hopefully make it to more comic conventions to get the word out.
Melinda: Maybe some more stories on our website, and I will be coming out with my artbook.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Judge: Check out StranglerBrothers.com.
Josh: We'll have clothing soon.
Melinda: The website and my artblog.
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