Monday, April 13, 2009

Aris Asks Brendan McGinley

Brendan is a comic writer and founder of Bankshot Comics, and is currently working on Heist, Invisible, INC., And Dose. He also produces a webcomic called Hannibal Goes to Rome, which has been featured on Zuda and is currently on Shadowline Web Comics.

1. When did you start reading comics?

According to my family, comics were the first thing I read; someone left a copy of MAD within reach, and I've been committed to satire and sequentials ever since. But as an enthusiast, I guess when I was 10 or so, a friend took me with him to the comic shop. I'm not sure what I ended up buying. I think it was TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES and SAMURAI CAT, which was actually a pretty good book.

2. What were the first books that blew your mind?

GRIMJACK was the first book I ever collected. That insane grin on the eponymous character's face whenever he'd get into a fight was bone-rattling. I remember thinking, "What kind of sicko smiles at these kinds of odds?" Of course, any psychopath would do, but what made GrimJack work was that he'd brood and cry and fight for folks he loved. I think that's an underrated book. It's like The Shadow and Philip Marlowe had a kid.

INFINITY GAUNTLET blew not only my mind, but even my classmates who didn't read comics. We had no idea who Thanos was, but he appeared to have no eyes and he just turned Wolverine's bones to rubber! I think that's a pretty good yardstick for a Marvel event villain; how brutally can he dispatch Wolverine? If the answer doesn't impress a 10-year-old, you don't get to write the summer crossover.

WILDCATS 3.0 and PLANETARY aren't the formative books of my youth, but they muscle their way on here because you can't keep them out. Has anyone else noticed the only superhero books to really advance the genre this millennium all came out of Wildstorm? The former's "corporation as superhero" angle informed INVISIBLE, INC. a lot.

3. Who are your favorite comic characters?

Just about everyone from LOVE & ROCKETS.

I really like Guy Gardner for his contrariness. That's a character who always loses. He's a jerk, nobody likes him, and being a hero costs him more than it gains. And yet he KEEPS ON TRYING. That's much more heroic and interesting to me than Superman, who's got a major stake in Metropolis and Lois Lane and the world at large. That's just a fellow tending his garden.

Now of course, that's not what Superman originally was; the idea behind it was great -- "Gee, if I had superpowers, I'd make everything fair!" But I've never been interested in Superman as a book because it's always about the world around Superman, and I simply do not care about Bibbo or the Newsboy Legion or Jimmy Olsen's acting career. Superman is a wonderful concept: a man who can overcome any obstacle eschews personal glory to improve the lot of others. That's heroism: "I'm Superman. How can I help?" All-Star Superman is great like that. Yeah, Guy Gardner.

The entire Giffen/DeMatteis era of JUSTICE LEAGUE was like a family to me in junior high. Good, clean fun comics.

A friend browbeat me into reading Joe Kelly's DEADPOOL, which is terrific -- extending the character to cartoon genius. The issue where they invaded an actual Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man is the funniest comic I've ever read. I mean essentially, Deadpool is Daffy Duck right at that point where Merrie Melodies became Looney Tunes -- sometimes he's a kid on a sugar buzz; sometimes he's a greedy jerk. I like Slapstick for similar reasons; they'd make a good team-up, wouldn't they?

I like the Punisher, who I think has more depth than most folks are willing to recognize. The problem is those damned movies always try to make the attack that killed his family personal and the subsequent vendetta about revenge. They just don't understand that when for a man able to survive anything, random violence IS personal. His gift becomes his curse because he had a picnic in the park. Why has no one let Garth Ennis have his way with a film script?

I like villains; I like Magneto and Venom and Sinestro -- evil twins always make the best foes, because they're instantaneous foils. Sinestro especially. Geoff Johns has done a terrific job building on what Giffen & Jones started.

4. Who are your favorite creators?

Well, I could say Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, but what MORE could I say? They're absolute titans. Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis will show you how to be a better person through perversion; I'd say those two helped me develop as not just a writer but a human being. I marvel at Geoff Johns' ability to turn in 100 scripts a month with no dip in quality.

On that point, Mark Waid, John Ostrander and Peter David never get enough good words written about them. Both are terrific plotters who know how to pin motive and emotion onto their structural points. I know that sounds highly technical, so here's what I'm getting it: they will never cheat you. They know how to make your jaw drop, they can make you care about a D-list character's supporting cast, and they'll mix some tears and laughter into the story.

Brian Azzarello, he's aces -- bloody knuckles, broken noses and bent morality.

Gerard Jones -- when he's on (MOSAIC, AMERICAN SECRETS), there's absolutely nobody better.

I have no idea what artists are out there anymore. I assume they're all great and I continue to wish I could draw like Adam Hughes or Frank Cho.

Evan Dorkin -- I'm jealous of his humor and his art. Man, I love his stuff. Hold on, I have to go read CIRCLING THE DRAIN.

Winsor McCay's been a huge influence on me. That's most evident in a couple stories not yet seen. His grave's not far from my house, and I've visited it a couple of times.

5. What are you currently reading?

Whatever my roommate brings home and stashes in the bathroom. Most of it's garbage.

6. You think $3.99 comics will kill the floppy?

You're asking the wrong Quixote. I designed a $5 indie comic at 56 pages with no ads and I still couldn't get it on the shelf. If Marvel can sell it, bully for them. Otherwise, I think they're looking at trades. Except aren't trades slowing down in bookstores now? That'll happen when you collect everything, whether or not it deserves it. I really can't believe neither company has begun a big push for original online content yet.

7. What is Bangshot Comics?

Bankshot is whatever I'm working on. "Brendan McGinley" is a lot harder search term to spell correctly. I guess you could call it an imprint or a studio or a very expensive hobby

8. What are some of the comics you are currently producing?

HEIST -- The world's greatest supervillain is so good at his job the heroes have no idea he exists. That is, until he's hired to steal an omnipotent artifact from their headquarters. It starts off a James Bond fantasy and goes to grievous places. Andres Ponce draws this, and Rocio Zucchi colors it to look -- oh! So fine. Josh Elder nods at my plots and shakes his head wearily at my dialogue.

INVISIBLE, INC. -- Ever wonder why supervillains don't try to take over the world anymore? A reporter discovers they pulled it off decades ago. This one is probably my favorite to craft, but the toughest to write, because there's so much conspiracy theory that zips so neatly into comic book cliches -- meaning I get to turn over things accepted as true with sinister implication. Tomas Aira handles all the art.

HANNIBAL GOES TO ROME -- The true story of the Carthaginian general who took elephants over the Alps told from start to epic finish. This is is running over at Shadowline, so if you like it, tell them in the message boards you want to see it in print with a big Image logo on it.

DOSE -- A compendium of humor and wit (maybe), featuring special guests and also a 30-foot-tall Dudley Do-Right battling a manga vixen in mecha armor. How now can you refuse? Seriously -- come for the Molly Crabapple guest pages, stay for the Victorian product advertisements.

And a bunch of projects that want artists of one calling or another: SHE'S FAMOUS NOW; REAPING PROFIT; ICONOGRAPHY; CITIZEN X: THE MISSION; STAR-X and a collaboration with Alex de Campi.

9. Are you building a continuous comic universe, or do all the titles exist in their own world?

Continuity is the enemy at this point. Who needs more of it? Comic fans have plenty of it if that's their thing. It's no longer a cool thrill if Thor appears in the Hulk, it's just part of the soap opera.

I wouldn't even be writing superhero comics if I were trying to establish that kind of open-ended, ongoing stuff. I figure there has to be other readers like me, who still love superpowers, but are just weary of the melodrama. I want a beginning, a middle and an end. I want change and development and characterization.

They just did a Spider-Man story called "Brand New Day" in which Peter Parker sells part of his soul to the Devil to preserve his aging aunt and ditch his supermodel wife. I mean, is there a better metaphor for comics and their continuity? Diving proudly into the sand headfirst to preserve the past at all costs, defying the natural order and common sense! SPIDER-MAN's supposed to be about growing up, and part of growing up is accepting that everyone passes in their time.

So no, I'm not dragging any characters back out if I don't think there's something they need to do. There might be a couple of more HEIST stories in Geist, but I don't want to overuse the character.

Now if it fits and if it were a thrill, I'd guest-star a little bit. You could put the case out there for, say, Iron Will from an upcoming project called ICONOGRAPHY to appear at the end of HEIST, and I tinker with the idea. But neither one of those characters could share a universe with INVISIBLE, INC. because they're just very different worlds. No one's controlling the heroes in HEIST and no one's a bastion of wit and style in INVISIBLE, INC.

But don't worry -- everything's self-contained. I'm not asking the reader to stray.

10. Which is the best?

Ha! Probably HEIST. It's the easiest to write. It's fun and breezy till it's not, and then the trap is sprung.

11. Hannibal? How did you come up with this?

Hannibal is inescapable when you're studying Carthage, which I was doing for CITIZEN X. I wanted a world where Carthage won the Second Punic War, and though I was going to dodge Hannibal, the really aggravating thing with fictional histories is it's MORE work than actual history -- it's not enough to just say "Ok, they didn't have saddles at this point in history," you have to figure out "Do they have guns? It's only 400 years later. Have they already made contact with China? Is that feasible? They have glass, they have naval ability, they're traders...what's that lead to first?" You have to figure out what could reasonably happen next by researching the entire world.

I suppose Hannibal was a bid for sanity amid all that. If I don't have the time period down by the end of that story, I don't deserve to finish CITIZEN X.

Besides, try though you might to dodge him, Hannibal is too impressive to ignore! I figured if I didn't slap that epic down with a talented guy like Mauro Vargas drawing it, someone else would, and they wouldn't use nearly as many awful puns -- so it had to be done.

12. Why didn't you do a comic about a Greek historical figure?

Because Frank Miller already did 300 and let's face it, Hipparchia's better off as a stage play. And your story's still being written, my lad.

13. Do you think there is a market for online comics?

I'm betting on it. HANNIBAL got more reads the first hour of Zuda than I've sold copies of DOSE to date.

14. Do you think digital comics will ever replace the floppy?

Yep. At least as a majority.

15. How do you find artists to work with?

I assume you mean "Where?" rather than "What's it like?" but I'll answer the second to give you the first -- a lot easier now that I'm finding guys via word of mouth in the Argentine comics community. They've never let me down: great talent, lots of enthusiasm, rates both parties can live with, and they all support each other. I spent 2003-2007 getting burned by artists from elsewhere who'd produce a few great pages in a flurry of commitment and then vanish -- sometimes with my deposit. But the boys from B.A. (and lady Rocio, whose art is literally unbelievably gorgeous) have never let me down -- not once.

16. Is it difficult to produce a finished comic?

I'd say it's more difficult than you'd expect to get one finished, but as easy as you'd think to get any of the elements done. It's difficult to make a GOOD comic, which I only say with certitude because I've already made some really mediocre ones. You can proofread it a hundred times and you still won't notice certain typos till you have the first print in hand. The web makes it easier to amend that, which I intend to do with some of the purple prose dragging down the middle of INVISIBLE, INC.'s first issue.

17. Some words of advice for the kid out there who wants to write comics?

Start doing it, give yourself extra space, and don't worry about trying to make it great. Worry about making it GOOD. Greatness is the product of inspiration, but goodness is the result of technical prowess. Everybody gets a few great ideas, but how many people learn to write a concise, slickstream-smooth, organic piece of information engineering that truly delivers on its premise within a few short pages?

Don't take it too seriously; even if you're the next Shakespeare, worrying about living up to Shakespeare will only paralyze you. Just get it done first. Shakespeare isn't great because he writes lofty poetry or even clear poetry; Shakespeare's great because he makes people think and feel.

Trust me, you can always revise; I'm still trying to improve and expunge my awful executions of good ideas from college.

Make some smart friends with enough of a mean streak to tell you what doesn't work.

And bear in mind this advice comes from a man with years in and dollars out on double-niche comics for the discerning conspiracy theorist/superhero fan. You should probably ignore everything I said and churn out heartless airport bricks like Michael "ZOMG Sciencebomb!" Crichton. There's a lot more money in that, and then you can buy me drinks.

18. What did you think of Kirkman's challange to comic creators, is it better to go independent?

I think it's better for Kirkman to go independent. I think it's better for a lot of people to have health insurance.

Neither one is actually better; he's just offering some advice on how to maximize your return and not get sheared of your life work's success. Nothing wrong with that. It helps to be a very good and prolific writer like Robert Kirkman. But if you're not at least one of those, why are you trying to get into a brawl for market share like this one?

19. Do you want to work for Marvel or DC?

I have. They paid me in comic books. That was as an intern, but from what I understand, the salaries are worth almost as much. I'll stick with construction.

But yeah, a little. I want to make money writing, I'd like to have health coverage and readership and somebody else doing all the marketing and print work so I can focus on the stories. I keep a file of story ideas that only work for their characters, but I'm not wasting time plotting them out. I'd rather work on second- or third-tier characters where you can really experiment and do something new. But as far as that kid's dream of working for those companies being the ultimate goal of any career, I'd rather be something besides that guy who had a pretty good run on CAPE-MAN.

20. You are working with Andres Ponce on Heist. How long until he gets snatched up by the Big Two?

I'm worried about that myself. I have a knack for getting collaborators swiped out from under me by bigger publishers. Andres, on loan to Mirage, is well overdue, and I know he'll be pushing his potent penciled pages around San Diego.

Here's a funny story -- you know I met Andres through the Millarworld boards. I really liked his art, hit him up for a collaboration, and the poor devil's been working with me ever since. So that was...2004, I think, and I was at Wizard, where they encourage you to read everything that's coming out so you can write knowledgeably about it. So I grab a handful of books that night, and go home to my freezing home in the wilds of Rockland.

And my house is literally freezing. I'm lying in bed under three covers, wearing a winter jacket, but reading comics because they're the only element in this story that keeps it from becoming a Jack London tale, and I DON'T WANT TO DIE.

So Jay Faerber -- he did the brilliant thing with NOBLE CAUSES of keeping the superhero soap opera, but eliminating the brawl side of it, so all you got was like...DYNASTY with lasers and it sounds crazy, but it was sharp and he made it work -- Jay Faerber has this new title called Firebirds. And I really dig the art, especially the costume design. This is great stuff.

So who's the artist? Oh, it's that fellow I just lured into my keyboard clutches during lunch.

And that's how Andres saved me from freezing to death, so I figure the least I can do is stall his career with junk like STAR-X.

21. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Hopefully done with all these beasts I've borne on my back all millennium. It'd be nice to take a vacation at some point between now and then.But as long as I'm eating well and still with this gorgeous, wonderful woman I guess I'm winning.

22. If you weren't doing comics you would be...?


23. Are you a better cook or writer?

Sadly, writer. Anyone who's sampled my writing can pat their stomach protectively. What's even sadder is I've been drawing twice as long as I've been writing, and I'm still a better writer than artist.

That said, I made ras-el-hatoun lamb shanks last week and these "Doom / Tuck" inks I can live with, so maybe one day I'll be a good writer.

24. If you make it big in comics, and Hollywood comes calling do you think you would ditch comics completely?

I don't see the need to split it, but I also don't see Hollywood chucking well-deserved scripting opportunities at any of these decades-deep talents even to adapt their own properties.

25. If you were directing Hannibal: the Movie, who would you cast in the lead?

I'd just want to see someone who can capture that ultimate leader, a guy who slugs it out in the trenches then leaps onto a horse, gives a stirring speech, and really could lead men into the mouth of Hell. And then he has to have a thick foundation of intelligence, craftiness and humor to convey humanity underneath the demands of state.

Idris Elba's good at everything he does. Let him have it.

Interrested in seeing more about Brendan's projects follow the links. Great stuff.

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