Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Interview With Landry Walker and Eric Jones
Supergirl:Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade came out 2 years ago and was unbelievably well received. Written by Landry Walker and drawn by Eric Jones, Cosmic was truly a pitch perfect all ages Supergirl book, with something for everyone and every generation of Supergirl fan. Despite it’s critical acclaim, a hinted-at sequel has never come to fruition. And yet, two years later people are still talking about Cosmic, especially after some concept art for the ‘9th grade’ book were posted on the web.
I was lucky enough to recently have the opportunity to talk to Landry Walker and Eric Jones, revisiting Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade and touching on other topics as well.
Anj: Can you guys talk about the creative process that led to Supergirl:Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade? Did you pitch an all-ages book and then decide on Supergirl? Did you pitch a Supergirl book and decide on the audience you were hoping to reach?
LANDRY: We pitched an all-ages Supergirl book. Though we really didn’t have a plan at first. Bob Shreck was the first person at DC we approached for work in general, as Disney Adventures had just been cancelled. He had the idea that Eric and I might be a good fit for Johnny DC and set up a meeting with Jann Jones at WonderCon. We walked away and decided to prepare a Supergirl pitch, unaware that Jann was at the convention looking for someone to produce an all-ages Supergirl. In fact, she had approached someone already, but they turned her down. No idea who that was. In a parallel universe, they’re answering these questions.
ERIC: The turnaround on the book being green-lit was also crazy fast -- usually there's a lot of waiting on the creative end while the decisions get made by Editorial, but they were obviously looking for something like what we pitched, and away we went -- we were in full production by a month or two after our pitch.
Anj: Were you always Supergirl fans? Or did that grow from the research for the book? What else can you say about your comic roots? Any creators or comic runs that influenced you as a fan or creator?
LANDRY: I became a Supergirl fan during Crisis on Infinite Earths. I was familiar with the character before hand, but her sacrifice and strength in that series really grabbed me.
Influences? Peter David. Keith Giffen. Howard Chaykin. John Byrne. Roy Thomas. Scott Shaw. Too many to name here and now. As I got older I drifted into the works of Peter Bagge and Joe Matt… that sort of stuff. Comics runs? Teen Titans by Wolman and Perez. Man of Steel. Batman: Year One. Captain Carrot...
Really, all the stuff you would expect of someone in my age group reading DC.
ERIC: I grew up a Marvel kid, actually, but like Landry, Crisis on Infinite Earths was when I got on board with Supergirl (and in my case, DC in general). But her arc in that series was so good, and so classically heroic -- I was sold.
As for my influences, I have at least a thousand. Paul Smith's run on X-Men in the early 80s was huge for me. So was 70s and 80s anime like Space Cruiser Yamato, or Macross. Akira (the comic) blew my mind when it came out in the US when I was a teenager. Watchmen. The Dark Knight Returns. American animation art is a big one, particularly Alex Toth's work. Also European comics artists like Moebius, Herge, Schuiten. Indie comics too: the Hernandez Bros., Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes. I worked for a long time at Rory Root's Comic Relief shop in Berkeley, and just about everything there influenced me, really.
Anj: What do you think is the appeal of the Supergirl character?
LANDRY: The character represents eternal optimism and hope. During the worst, she sees the best. She can be young and fun and irritable and short-tempered and goofy. But no matter what, she will always put the needs of others first, even if it means she will suffer greatly because of it.
She’s also a teenager. She’s learning. She has a place to start from, and a goal to reach. That’s way more interesting from a storytelling perspective than a character that’s already established.
ERIC: I think her appeal is a function of the fact that she's someone we can relate to. Everyone has been in a similar place to hers; she's not an authority figure, but she has a duty to herself and others that she's dedicated to. I also think she's inspiring to us, since she'll put herself in harm's way to do what's right --who doesn't aspire to that?
Anj: That is my take on the character as well. My love for the character was that I loved Superman’s powers but I could relate to Supergirl way more. She had the foibles I had but was always striving to do what’s right.
Anj: Getting back to Cosmic, you have so much Supergirl history (and DCU history) sprinkled throughout the book. Was that part of the plan … to give this ‘out of continuity’ book some roots in continuity?
LANDRY: More or less. I’m not a big believer in continuity; I think it’s largely an illusion. I mean, Supergirl from theearly 60s and the one that died in Crisis are only the “same” character because we say they are. So as far as I’m concerned, our Supergirl is the original Supergirl. Her origin is fundamentally the same and her role in the universe is the same. What Eric and I have done is streamlined her origin for a new audience. We made some sense of why she was wearing a uniform when she crashed, and put a malevolent cosmic hand behind the insane coincidence that is her arrival on Earth… but she is the same Kara that was in comics during the 60s, 70s and 80s.
ERIC: We really wanted to make the book "all ages", in a literal sense; we wanted it to be entertaining for readers of any age. One of the tools we used to that end was referring to things that had taken place in classic (or not-so-classic) Supergirl stories, just as a nod to the people who were familiar with the material. I think it was a fun way of giving longtime fans more to digest, without slowing down the story.
Also, Landry and I both really enjoy taking preexisting material that sometimes conflicts with itself (and 50 years of Supergirl comics by innumerable creators and editorial directions definitely has that happening), and finding a way to incorporate as much of it as possible into a cohesive story.
Anj: I loved Cosmic and could ask a million questions about it. Do you have any favorite moments of the book? Anything you wish you did in retrospect?
LANDRY: The Hand of Krona. That was probably the part I’m most proud of. The Supragirl arc is also a something I’m tremendously happy about. We did the throwaway bit in issue 3 where she vanishes from existence, and you think little of it -- it’s more of a joke than anything -- but we get a feel for her as a separate character in issues 5 and 6. After reading those, go back and read what is essentially her death scene and it has (I hope) much more impact.
ERIC: So many favorite moments. Most of Kara's "daydreaming" sequences are favorites, particularly those involving The Moon Gang. The ending of #1, which in my opinion is one of the most affecting pieces we've done to date. I'm really proud of our take on Streaky, particularly the scene where he attacks Belinda Zee in the background while Supergirl and Lena argue in the foreground. My most favorite scene has to be when we reveal the true nature of Supergirl's predicament, and the true roots of so much of the DC Universe. I really couldn't be happier with how that all came out.
Anj: You may recall that the Krona moment was my number one Supergirl moment from 2009. And everybody loved the ‘Moon Gang’ here as well. It was great to see them cross over into the Batman Brave and the Bold book you guys did.
LANDRY: That was actually part of a grander plan that we didn’t get to see concluded. In our first issue, we introduced “The Void” which claimed to be from “Quasi-Space", which people might recall is where Argo was shunted to when Krypton exploded in Cosmic Adventures. We later brought in our own version of Egg-Fu, re-imagined as a more Lovecraftian nightmare creature called Y’ggphu Soggoth, who claimed to be “the second sign of the great ending”; the Void was actually the first.
This was all leading to a planned two-issue crossover appearance from our Supergirl, where Kara would lose her powers and take on the identity of Flamebird while working with Batman. Eric even did some test designs of the costume.
ERIC: We never really finalized a design, and she looks significantly older than she would've been in the book; can't really recall why that was. In any case, it's sort of a glimpse of what she'd look like late in the proposed Supergirl series, maybe 12th Grade.
I really wish we would've gotten to that Brave and the Bold story; it was such a fun idea to connect the Cartoon Network Batman to our Supergirl, and having Kara become Flambebird would have been another nod to the Supergirl mythos that would have been nice for the fans. Unfortunately we were taken off the book before it could all happen, but luckily there were no obviously-dangling plot threads.
Anj: Cosmic Adventures in the Eight Grade was so well received and is still getting some publicity nearly 2 years later. Are you amazed at the outpouring of support and the demand for a sequel?
LANDRY: I’m absolutely flabbergasted that people are still so passionate about the project. It’s humbling, and I consider us very lucky to have managed to create something with so much permanence. Usually, books like this get passing interest and then fade from memory.
ERIC: I'm amazed, and I'm thrilled that we managed to tap into something that people feel so strongly about. Considering that all-ages comics rarely get the time of day in this era, I'm deeply touched that people are championing the project so vocally.
Anj: I know that the Cosmic 9th Grade book is still theoretical. Without tipping your hand, any hints on what we might see if the book is done?
LANDRY: It’s all a bit of a jumble in my head. I do think we would see some familiar characters from Argo appear. Brainiac 5. The Phantom Zone. We’ve shown some of the art produced, so obviously Lex is back at some point. Satan Girl. Melinda Mee (Bizarrogirl). The Locker of Solitude (have to keep a super horse somewhere). Robin. Lena Thorul, Jungle Princess…
More important, we would see Linda grow. She’s not the same Linda who broke her desk, and wanted to fly home. She’s happier, more confident, and she’s started building a life on Earth. We see her in the aforementioned art with longer hair, as the series (10th grade and so on) progressed, we’d see alterations to her uniform, some moments of great happiness and some moments of great tragedy.
And as Lena said in issue 6… the Red skies ARE coming.
ERIC: And it would be filled with drawings by me!
Seriously, though -- I think we'd produce something very much like the last volume in flavor, but really upping the ante and expanding on things both character-wise and plot-wise. We do have some pretty cool ideas for where to go with it, and without saying too much, I think the fans would be pleased.
Anj: Well, as a Supergirl fan, I love that Satan Girl, as a concept, seems to worm her way into every incarnation of the character. But Jungle Princess?? That’s interesting.
LANDRY: It’s from an old story where Lena had amnesia -- Action Comics #313, I believe. There really weren’t very many appearance of the character in her original form, but what is out there has tremendous potential.
ERIC: Oh, man, that's an idea I'm still really fond of. One way or another, we need to get that one out there.
Anj: And you had to bring up the red skies! Supergirl fans have PTSD about that stuff!
LANDRY: And justifiably so! COIE was some dramatic/traumatic material, and can be folded very well into a retelling of Supergirl’s mythology. How things go when we get there… well, we’d just have to wait and see.
ERIC: I think it's worth mentioning that we really had some elaborate plans for Supergirl that were going to address most of her major adventures throughout the years, and Crisis was absolutely one of them.
Anj: What can you tell us about your upcoming project Danger Club (projected February 2012 Image release)?
LANDRY: It’s basically a combination of a Secret Wars-type adventure in a DC-style universe. All the adult heroes are taken to a distant corner of the universe to fight a terrible evil, and they don’t come back. But they left dozens of sidekicks and supervillians behind on Earth, and conditions quickly deteriorate. Eric is drawing it and Joey Mason is on colors, so it’s the full Cosmic Adventures team on a very different project.
ERIC: I think this one is going to surprise a lot of people; it's completely different from any other book we've ever done, and I think most people won't realize it's by the same creative team that did Cosmic Adventures.
Anj: Leaving Supergirl for a second, Landry I thought your Mad Hatter book was disturbing and haunting. What was it like to dip your toes into the mainstream DCU?
LANDRY: Darker. That’s a pretty personal story, directing a lot of my own obsessive-compulsive behavior and self-hatred into a comic. It’s not a great place to live, so to speak. When I write I try to stay in a certain head space -- the place the characters are living -- so that the voices of said characters stay natural to me.
The Mad Hatter story was written in about three days; three days where I locked myself up, alone in my house, and paced around while muttering quietly.
To be honest, that stuff is much easier to write than an all-ages series. It’s just a less-fun place to park your mind. It takes a toll.
Otherwise, in some ways that story is less mainstream DC than Cosmic Adventures. There’s really only one character in it, and that’s pretty much my own take on the Mad Hatter with little concern for what anyone else has done with him. I wanted the book to be a single issue, definitive Mad Hatter story that told you everything you ever needed to know about him. I’m pretty happy with it.
On a related note, I got to work with Keith Giffen and Bill Sienkiewicz. Keith called me up himself to tell me he was on the project, and complimented me repeatedly on the script. We talked a few times on the phone – mostly about humor in comics. The phone calls are one of the highlights of my experience writing comics. If that was my only shot at writing for the DCU proper, then so be it. What a note to go out on!
Anj: I think the thing that got me about that book was that I really felt for Tetch early in the book, seeing him struggle with his compulsions and trying to overcome them. And then you see he has a closet full of corpses. That reveal just turned that book on its head.
LANDRY: I’m pretty happy with the reaction to the book. The cyclical nature of compulsion/gratification/remorse is very real; moreso with alcoholism or drug abuse admittedly, but the mindset I represented with Tetch is one where there is no “normal” moment. The cycle never ends. That’s what madness is. Not the glamorous and pretty kind of crazy we sometimes see Batman villains dressed up in, but the destructive and corrosive personal hell that you know you’re in, but can’t escape. So when you look from the outside, you want to feel sorry for the person trapped in this cycle, but the dark end of the cycle is so repugnant that it changes your perspective on them. And if you feel that way about them, imagine how they feel about themselves.
Anj: Finally, I think we all want to see Supergirl Cosmic Adventures in the 9th Grade happen. What can we do to help persuade DC to make it happen?
LANDRY: Ask DC. And then ask them again. Keep posting about about it. Post on forums. Ask at conventions. Email DC. Mail DC. Send them Facebook messages. Twitter comments. Whatever people can do to make sure that DC hears them and to keep people talking about it.
ERIC: DC wants to know what people want to read. If they hear from enough people that they want a sequel to Cosmic Adventures, you can bet that someone at DC will try to make it happen. Keep asking them for it, however you go about it. If you can convince DC, I think it's fair to say that Landry and I will happily do the work.
Anj: Let’s hope the troops rally and get this done! I know that there are facebook pages and Twitter petitions for this to happen too. If anyone knows those links, please post them in the comments section!
Landry and Eric, thanks again for stopping by and talking!