Writing About Comics in 2016

Mainly for the sake of my own failing memory, which has been a sparkless nightmare all year, I wanted to do a run-through of my year in writing about comics across 2016, and the sorts of things I’ve been working on. Also because I like attention. Here’s a sort of summary, with brief anecdotes, about my various projects through the last year.

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JANUARY

The first big piece of the year was with Si Spurrier and Ryan Kelly for Cry Havoc. Si Spurrier is one of my favourite people to interview, because he always puts 100% of himself into his answers – it must be exhausting for him to do so. Alex de Campi is another who also gives brilliant interviews, and Greg Pak. When you have someone who is willing to put in time to their answers, and is naturally so gifted at writing and stringing words together, it’s absolutely perfect as an interviewer. I never feel I push far enough with them, though, but hopefully that’s slowly started to shift with each new time I get the opportunity.

This year was also a chance to write some really silly articles in a really serious way – like this tribute to a random background Green Lantern character who got killed off in a comic at the start of the year. Killing off Green Lanterns in ironic fashion has become a recent staple of that franchise, and it was fun to explore it.

FEBRUARY

Emma Rios and Hwei Lim joined up for an interview for Mirror at Image Comics, which was unbelievably exciting. Emma ran that one, if I remember correctly. What a way to kick off 2016 proper – two spiralling talents, who think about comics in an entirely different way to anyone else I’ve ever spoken to. Sometimes after an interview you feel you’ve managed to catch the intent of the interviewees perfectly – this wasn’t one of those cases. I hope that I’ll have a chance to interview them both again some day, because I think the second interview’ll be a charm in each case.

And I also spoke to the cast and director of an X-Men fan film in February! Almost forgot about that – there was a Dazzler music video released a year ago or so, and the sequel video had actresses Sage Montclair and Gentry Ross playing Lila Cheney and Dazzler respectively. Director Arvin Bautista remembered I’d been positive about the previous video, so he got in touch about this follow-up – and it was really entertaining to put an interview together with everyone.

MARCH

Jamal Igle agreed to do a lengthy interview about his attitude towards comics in 2016, which changed really interestingly. He made a pledge that he’d focus solely on creator-owned projects moving forward, despite being one of the most well-known Supergirl artists around at a time where the character has been made incredibly popular by the TV show. In addition to his series Molly Danger, he was also heavily involved in the kickstarter-funded project Black, an ambitious project which deserved more reviews and analysis than perhaps its received.

Looking back, what a coup it was to get to interview both Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk about Mockingbird. It’s embarrassing how the comics fanbase treated Cain in 2016, and it’s embarrassing that I couldn’t think of any meaningful ways to help, even after the fact.

APRIL

I had a few opportunities to sneak in interviews with Marvel at the start of the year, when I was being more proactive and aggressive about getting interviews approved, and one of the most fun ones was with Ryan North and Erica Henderson, the creative team on The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. They’d just done an issue which was a ‘choose your own adventure’ set-up, and I tried to mirror that with a ‘choose your own interview’ for readers. Perhaps more trouble than it was worth, but North and Henderson made up for it with their banter throughout the piece.

#ArtCred has had its stumbles over the year, but the essential goal remains a solid one: that the comics industry needs to look equally at writers, artists, colorists, letterers, inkers, flatters – anybody involved in the creative process of actually putting a book together. I’ve spent the year trying to make sure that I at least ask if I can interview both the writer and artist on a book whenever I have chance, but I also wanted to do this interview with artist Jamie McKelvie and colorist Matt Wilson about The Wicked and The Divine. Knowing Matt, I was able to pitch the idea to him, and he then drove it forward – he’s a fantastic interviewee in his own right, and having Jamie in the interview as well really opened things up, I think.

MAY

At the start of the year ComicsAlliance put together a series of posts where we ranked the X-Men, to find out who the Top 100 were. As part of it, I casually referred to the fact that Beast should be put in prison, and several people emailed me or wrote in the comments that they had no idea why I thought that. Their requests led to this, where I got to write an essay about why Beast should be put in prison forever. That was great!

JUNE

I think I might have been once of the first people to interview Claire Roe, years ago, when she was working on a Scottish graphic novel about a superhero called Saltire. When she got announced on Batgirl and The Birds of Prey this year, I absolutely wanted to make sure she was included in the interview we ran on CBR – and her answers were some of the most fun, and most Scottish, I received all year.

Our last Delinquents column also went up in June, focusing on Quantum & Woody. JAM is such a delight to write about comics with, as she’s so much smarter than me and it’s terrific fun trying to keep up with her, and give her something to bounce off against. I hope I managed to do her justice in that regard.

JULY

July saw the first in a short series of long-form interviews called Five Stars, which follows a creator through five books in their career to date. I’ve always wanted to be able to interview people beyond their newest #1 issue, and I think it’s essential that comics websites be able to look at the past with as fresh an eye as they look at the present and future. To start, I wanted someone who I knew would be a comprehensive, insightful interviewee – and Declan Shalvey has shown himself to be someone who wants to improve the industry, and also listens and pays attention to comics websites when they do interesting work. I approached him for that reason – when you know the interviewee is invested, that’s a significant part of the battle already won, even before you write the first question.

I’m not involved in ShortBox at all, which meant I was able to pitch and complete an interview with Zainab Akhtar – who is one of my best friends in real life, in full disclosure – which ran on CBR in July. Seeing her basically stop just over a year ago, reassess where she was and what she wanted to do, and then move forward with projects like ShortBox and Critical Chips? That’s been such an inspiring thing to witness. And complain about at Nandos.

AUGUST

I was speaking to Alison Sampson, the engine who quietly powers the comics industry, and she listed off some people she thought would be great for Five Stars – but as soon as she mentioned Larry Hama I jumped on that opportunity. He’s got an intimidating legacy, but his stories are fantastic, and he’s absolutely unworried about telling them. He’ll talk about anything, and is completely open, which made this probably the best interview I had published all year.

I’m probably remembering this wrong, but I believe I was haphazardly planning two interviews with Hope Larson in August, for books at two different publishers – but as things threatened to go off the rails, FirstSecond and DC both agreed that they’d be happy to run a single interview which touched on her projects with both of them. I wrote out questions which gave equal space to both her projects, and I think the whole thing managed to come out pretty well, despite my mess at the start. What a year Hope Larson has had, too.

Back Pages ran intermittently all year, but I really appreciate having it as an opportunity to speak to brilliant people about their Kickstarter projects – be they for webcomics, print comics, anthologies, whatever. Robin Hoezelmann’s interview for Curia Regis stands out in particular, as I’ve wanted to speak to her about webcomics for ages and this offered me a place to do so.

SEPTEMBER

The month was dominated by setting up – and then running – an interview with Karen Berger. Five Stars is all about finding interesting parts of comics history and trying to dig out stories and insight about them, and she was understandably a little cagey when talking about Vertigo. That said, she didn’t ignore any of my questions, and she also suggested shifting one of the intended books we were going to feature so that instead we could talk about Punk Rock Jesus – I think that’s a project she looks back on with a lot of pride.

I ran interviews with both Benjamin Percy and Jonboy Meyers in September, who were scheduled respectively as artist and writer on Teen Titans. The interview had to be separated into two pieces rather than one, as something was going on behind the scenes with the book – Percy doesn’t mention Meyers at all in his interview, for a start. Jonboy subsequently left the series entirely, actually, down to creative differences, which is a shame because his interview was really interesting, and he provided a LOT of his design work for reference throughout the piece.

I also spoke to Matt Smith, editor at 2000AD, as the publication celebrated 2000 issues (or ‘progs) or existence. I believe there will be further 2000AD-related news that involves me in the new year.

My longest ‘essay’ actually showed up right here, as well: about Star Wars and Marvel, and how the two have been working together.

OCTOBER

Going to New York for Comic-Con was a terrifying, huge deal for me, but it went well mainly due to the kindnesses of people like Alexander Lu, who was brilliantly nice to me across the whole weekend. I did two in-person interviews for CBR, and covered panels on topics as wide-ranging as Star Wars, WWE Comics, #ArtCred, Scott Snyder and #BlackComicsMonth. It was especially nice to watch David Brothers’ approach to moderating panels in-person, as he’s one of the most professional and observant panelists in the industry.

Kyle Baker was my most recent interviewee in Five Stars, and his interview was the most aspirational for me, in that he has a lot of advice to offer, and I hope I was able to corral questions which enabled him to properly bring his experience and understanding of comics to ComicsAlliance readers.

I like writing essays, but my day job holds me back from really having time to engage with anything beyond short pieces. For that reason, they’ve been short on the ground for me in 2016. It’s always a pleasant day when you get to write about world-ending dragon monsters, though.

NOVEMBER

Tee Franklin, who hosted the #BlackComicsMonth panel, reached out to me afterwards about her first published comics work as a short story in the back of Nailbiter over at Image, with Juan Ferreyra – which led to this sharp, fun interview on CBR about the project shortly after.

I did a number of Valiant interviews this year for CBR, including some phone calls. These are always a challenge, as you have multiple people speaking from different parts of the world, and I’m based in the UK – I think at one point we had four people from three countries all talking for one interview. Valiant strike me as a publisher who have a few years of real potential to work off, though. They have a shared universe of diverse characters, and just need to reflect that within their hiring choices moving forward, as they do tend to lean on the same three/four writers for all their projects. The comics talent working at Valiant, though – without exception, they’ve all made it clear that they find it to be easily their best work for hire experience in the comics industry.

DECEMBER

Hey, just one hour ago this posted: Yearender, my annual look at the year ahead in comics. I pick a random selection of books which I think’ll be interesting, and write random anecdotes about them – just like I’ve done with 2016 during this self-indulgent piece! That’s one of the joys about writing for attention, rather than as a full-time job that pays the rent, I guess. I hope 2017 proves to be a decent one.

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