We are back after a brief hiatus while we travelled to Toronto, Ontario. Thought Bubble towers have been abandoned for a couple of weeks while we checked out the wonderment of the icy north and TCAF. (NB: the weather’s actually really nice there, so our arctic explorer kit was a bit of an over-reaction) To celebrate our return, we’ve got a new minterview for you guys, and some TB news as well!
NEWS: we are delighted to announce that all tables for this year’s Thought Bubble convention (17th & 18th November) have now been booked up! This is the fastest we’ve ever sold-out, and we’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s booked a table with us – you guys make TB what it is! Yay!
MORE NEWS: We’ve also released details of this year’s official hotel for the festival, including exclusive prices (from £89 per night) for attendees staying the weekend. The Leeds Marriott is a lovely hotel, and is sure to fill up fast, so book soon to avoid disappointment!
Now, onwards to minterviews!
Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. We will face our fear. We will permit it to pass over us and through us. And when our fear is gone we will turn and face fear’s path, and chat with a few comics creators and write down the results! Minterviews!
The format’s the same each week – five standard questions are asked to every contributor, and then five special follow-ups are derived from their answers to the initial batch of questions, so ten in total, a mini-interview, a Minterview. Hopefully it’ll make for some nice informal conversations about the funny books we know and love from those who make them.
This week we spoke to Antony Johnston wonderful Wasteland writer, whose latest tale The Coldest City looks set to be a corking cold war comic! Have a butchers at what we talked about after the jump!
TB: Hi Antony, to start off, can you give us an idea of how you got started in comics? Did you get a big break, or was it more gradual?
Very gradual! Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve even had a “big break”…
My first works were online, back before web comics were a “thing”, when everyone was just feeling their way around it. At the same time, I met people online who wanted to become indie publishers. My first book for one of those publishers was Frightening Curves, and ironically it’s not a comic, but an illustrated prose piece.
But my next book for the same publisher was a graphic novel, and those books brought me to the attention of Oni and Avatar, two established indie companies, who both asked me to write some stuff for them. Which I did, and that in turn brought me to the attention of larger publishers, and then I started working in games (which, ironically, raised my profile in comics more than any of my comics work had ever done) and so on, and so on.
For me, it’s always been about working hard, doing interesting things, and continuing to push myself. It blows my mind to think I’ve been doing this for over a decade, because I still feel like I’m just starting out.
TB: So, do you think the internet’s made it easier for those just starting out, or has the explosion in online titles made it harder for individuals to stand out from the crowd?
It’s definitely helped. When I started out, webcomics and online fora were still new things. Twitter, facebook, bittorrent… none of them existed, and the number of people online was much smaller than it is now. So if you knew how to take advantage of the venues that were available, you could stamp out your own little patch.
And I think that’s still key, even now. Sure, everyone and their aunt has a webcomic now, so there’s a morass of content (of wildly differing quality and attitude) that readers have to plough through to find what they actually want to read. But those readers are out there, and thanks to the explosion in the online audience you can now reach millions more than you could just five years ago. That can only be a good thing.
TB: What’s your proudest moment, in comics or otherwise, to date?
Launching Wasteland, and then finding there were other people out there who love it as much as I do.
I’m a great believer that you should create for yourself, rather than making what you think other people will want. But even with that in mind, WL is such a personal project; a book where I decided I would simply write something I’d want to read myself, with no consideration or compromise for the audience. And so what you end up with is a long, complicated, downbeat book written almost entirely to a soundtrack of doom metal. “Downtuned comics”, I call it. So to do that, and then discover that thousands of other people are enjoying it too, made me very proud indeed.
TB: So, now that Wasteland’s back as a monthly title, which I’m really pleased about, incidentally, does this mean there’s going to be an uninterrupted run through to its, presumably epic, conclusion?
That’s the plan, although never say never! We’re working well ahead of ourselves, and we’re still planning the odd “skip month” here and there between story arcs. But we’re already up to pre-production on the penultimate arc, which won’t even start until sometime in 2013, so it’s in a good place right now.
TB: Does your writing process differ between your projects – for example those for Marvel Comics, those for video games, and that for writing Wasteland – or do you have a set process that you apply to everything?
It all differs a bit, mostly at the start of projects. And it differs according to both genre and format. A sci-fi book requires a different kind of planning to a videogame, which is different again for a superhero comic, and yet again for an adaptation. But once I get beyond planning and into the meat of a project, I don’t treat the actual writing work very differently.
There’s a big piece all about my process in the Articles section of my site, at http://antonyjohnston.com/articles/
TB: Do you enjoy attending conventions and other events like Thought Bubble?
I do, especially when they’re as well-organised as Thought Bubble. I love meeting and chatting with readers, especially as my audience tends to be less mainstream and more on fandom’s fringes, like me. You must understand that writing is solitary. I sit in my study all day, with only my dogs for company, and barely leave the house. So meeting readers, and catching up with friends in the business (who are just as solitary!) is great fun.
TB: Which comics are you enjoying at the moment, any all-time favourites?
Too many to mention, so I’ll use this opportunity to give some highlight recommendations:
Criminal and Fatale, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Actually, pretty much anything by Brubaker/Phillips, but these two works in particular are awesome, just fantastic crime/pulp/noir comics from two of the greatest creators working today. They never disappoint.
Journey Into Mystery, written by Kieron Gillen. Who knew you could take the risible idea of “kid Loki” and turn it into one of the most creative, inspiring and — yes — heartfelt books on the stands? What Kieron’s done with this comic is kind of amazing, and every month it goes straight to the top of my to-read pile.
Queen & Country, written by Greg Rucka. It’s no secret that Q&C is one of my all-time favourites. The best espionage comics bar none, with cracking characters and contemporary, all-too-realistic stories. (Disclaimer: I wrote a short Q&C spinoff miniseries at Greg’s request. But I was already saying all this stuff long before that came up.)
And I’ll finish with a list of perennial favourites from Vertigo, just in case there are people out there who only know it for Sandman (which is excellent, but only a small part of the treasure trove that imprint has been over the years): Transmetropolitan. The Invisibles. Scalped. Lucifer. Y: The Last Man. The Losers. 100 Bullets. Preacher. All highly recommended.
TB: And if you had to choose one comic to get someone who’s never read a single one before hooked on the medium, which would it be?
That’s almost an impossible question, because it depends on what sort of reader they are. For example, we’ve had great success getting teenage boys to start reading comics with the Alex Rider adaptations. But I wouldn’t recommend those to, say, an adult who reads a lot of crime fiction (they’d get Criminal) or someone who loves anthropological sci-fi (they’d get Finder).
That’s the beauty of modern comics; over the last twenty-plus years there’s been a massive explosion of variety. We don’t just have to point everyone at watchmen any more (which was never an ideal choice for first-time readers anyway). We can actually ask people what they like in other media, then give them a comic more in line with their tastes. That’s a really good situation to be in.
TB: Do you read your comics in print form, or have you embraced the digital revolution and moved to an e-reader? Do you think we’re reaching a point where digital sales may eventually overtake hard copies?
I tend to read monthlies digitally, then buy collections in print, and I’m confident that behaviour will become the norm before long. I’ve been banging that drum for years, and we’re finally starting to see it happen.
I have no doubt we’ll reach the point where digital monthlies overtake print sales, but it’s very hard to predict exactly when. That’s already the case with a few low-selling indie books, and digital sales are rising all the time, but it’ll be a while before they overtake print for the big sellers (I’d estimate at least 3-4 years, but it could be much longer).
TB: Finally, thought bubbles or caption boxes?
Depends on the audience. For kids, I use thought balloons, because the visible connection helps guide them through the visual mechanics. For mature readers I tend towards caption boxes, because then you can play with ambiguity, false narrators, misdirection, and all that.
…I may possibly overthink these things.
Many thanks to Antony for taking the time to talk to us, we’ll be back soon, and in the meantime check the twitter feed for updates!