Open Your Mouth: Issue #40

Thu, March 18th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
J. Torres, Columnist

SUPER FRIENDS

The question I am most often asked at conventions, signings, and the like is: "What does the J. stand for?" A close second to this is something along the lines of: "What is so-and-so up to these days?" or "What ever happened to this or that artist you used to work with?" Sometimes I can tell you exactly what a former collaborator is up to, while other times I haven't a clue. The latter will usually prompt me to e-mail or call an artist to play catch up, find out what they're working on these days, and see what mischief they're up to in general.

With convention season right around the corner, I thought it might be a good idea to start doing my research and make sure I have some answers for curious fans wanting to know who's up to what. Then it hit me that it might make a fun column, something focusing on what some of the artists I've worked with in the past are working on lately. Fun and not to mention killing a few birds with one stone.

"What ever happened to Tim Levins?"

"What's Francis up to these days?"

"Are you and Takeshi ever gonna do more 'Sidekicks'?"

"Why does Mike Norton talk funny?"

All these questions and more answered in this week's OYM featuring conversations with some of my all-time favorite artists, sneak peeks at some of their upcoming projects, an exclusive look inside some of their sketchbooks, a little bit of shameless self-promotion, and a few friends just catching up with each other…

TIM LEVINS: MY FIRST

[The Complete Copybook Tales]Nearly ten years ago, Tim Levins and I jumped into the deep end hand in hand with a minicomic called "Copybook Tales." From photocopied, hand stapled, and self-published pamphlets, our little semiautobiographical slice-of-life ditty found its way to full-sized honest-to-gosh comic book status thanks to Dan Vado at SLG Publishing, and a few years later was collected by the suckers at Oni Press. "Copybook Tales" opened more than a few doors for both of us.

One of those doors was held open by Jim Valentino who invited us to publish "Siren" at Image Comics. That led to other doors opening. "After we finished Siren, I was lucky enough to get a call from 'Batman: Gotham Adventures' editor, Darren Vincenzo, who asked me if was interested in penciling a fill-in issue," recounts Tim. "Eight months earlier, I had sent him a copy of Siren #1 in the hopes of getting some work with him, but his office had sent me a form rejection letter." But the day came when the regular "Gotham Adventures" creative team on fell behind schedule, and lo and behold, Vincenzo did look upon a pile of comics on his desk and saw that aforementioned issue of "Siren." Tim got his shot. That led to a second issue, then a third, and eventually… a four-year-run on the book (from 1999 to 2003). "Definitely a case of being at the right place at the right time," says Tim.

Since "Gotham Adventures" ended its run last year, Tim has worked on a variety of projects, including a handful of issues of "Justice League Adventures", an eight-page story for Jay Faerber's "Noble Causes: Extended Family", and contributions to John Lowe's upcoming book about the art of comic book storytelling. "John, an instructor at the Savannah Institute of Art, approached fifteen comic book artists [including the likes of Brian Stelfreeze, Mark Schultz, Scott Hampton, and Jim Mahfood] to work on five short stories, with three artists each interpreting his or her assigned story separately," explains Tim. "In the book, John will examine and compare each artist's approach to storytelling, and he'll use the book as a teaching tool in his classes. I can't wait to see the final product!"

Tim moved out of Toronto in 2002, sadly ending our tradition of meeting at a coffee shop or Mickey D's to talk comics or plot taking over the world. The nightmares where I wake up screaming, "Come back to Ike, baby! Come back to Ike!" have stopped, and Tim and I have some stuff cooking on the stove. None of it is soup yet, but "Copybook Tales" fans take note: November is the 10th anniversary of the book, so we'll at least do a little something to mark the occasion.

In the meantime, Tim's enjoying his new role as a dad. "Last November, my wife gave birth to our first child, James, who is simply adorable," he says proudly. And in between diaper changes Tim still manages to draw some comics, so readers should be on the lookout for his issues of "Justice League Adventures", including one story which features Kamandi!

Here's a look at some eye-popping panels from Tim's upcoming JLAdv work…


FRANCIS MANAPUL: THE TOP CALF

So, that "Siren" book Tim and I did for Image led to another series over there called "Monster Fighters." That was illustrated by a kid named Francis Manapul, fresh out of high school at the time. We had a lot of names for Francis back then: "the kid", "junior," "baby beyotch," "errand boy"… But these days our circle of friends simply refers to him as "The Top Calf."

"Since our last collaboration I've been working for Top Cow Productions," moos Francis. "I started off with a couple of one shots including 'Fear Effect: Retro Helix' and the 'Witchblade/Lady Death' crossover, which came out a few of years ago." Francis then went on to do fill-ins on various issues of "Tomb Raider" and "Witchblade" before taking over as regular penciler on the latter, an assignment he's still on today as the title come to its series finale with issue #75.

Working for Top Cow has allowed Francis to venture beyond local pastures and see the world. "I recently got to go to France, which was awesome!" he exclaims. The artist may be small in stature but he's big in Europe and was brought over there for a convention and signing tour taking him through seven different French cities with names he can't pronounce. "Got to check out the Eiffel tower, walked up half way and took the lift the rest of the way up... the view of Paris was amazing!" You try climbing all those stairs in hooves.

Francis is currently wrapping things up on "Witchblade" and then plans to move on to udder projects for The Cow. He's also helping me out with a "Monster Fighters" related project for Ed Dukeshire over at Digital Webbing. More on that in a future column.

In the meantime, here's a look at Francis' pencils for the wrap-around cover to the historic "Witchblade" #75…

TAKESHI MIYAZAWA: MY "SIDEKICKS" SIDEKICK

[Sidekicks]"Copybook Tales" just happened to have a fan in C.B. Cebulski, currently an editor at Marvel Comics, but previously head of Fanboy Entertainment and an editor at CPM Manga before that. When he found out Takeshi Miyazwa and I were looking for someone to publish "Sidekicks" he offered to do it. That was close to four years ago. Tak and I met at a local comic convention about a year earlier (in case anyone's keeping score).

"Sidekicks" is now at Oni Press. In the last couple of years whenever anyone asked when we were going to do more "Sidekicks", I'd say something like, "When Tak gets back from Japan." Well, he's back.

"Since returning from Japan last summer I've been working for Marvel mostly and doing other stuff for DC/Wildstorm," reports Takeshi. "I've also moved [from Ajax, Ontario] out to Vancouver and trying to start afresh with a new place and new and warmer surroundings." The books Takeshi has illustrated since his return from his parents' birthplace include a fill-in on "Uncanny X-men" #434, a short story for "Spider-Man Unlimited" #1, fill-ins on "Runaways" #11 and #12, and "Robotech: Invasion," a five-issue miniseries up to its third issue this month. Also, due out this month is a short story featuring Jubliee, which he drew for "X-Men Unlimited" #2.

"It's been sort of a whirlwind for me since getting back from Japan," muses Miyazawa. "But I'm glad I've sorta gotten a footing in this comic book thing." His next project is a "Mary Jane" series for the Marvel Age line written by Sean McKeever ("Sentinel", "Mystique").

And after that, yes, the plan is for more "Sidekicks." Can't say when exactly, and another Marvel gig might get in the way, but it's coming. Please stay tuned!

[Jubilee]

MIKE NORTON: MY MIKE SOUNDS NICE, CHECK ONE!

[Jason and the Argobots]Speaking of future plans, Mike Norton and I have more Argobots comics planned. But not before he wraps up some other projects. And not before we announce another Argobots project.

"I am just now finishing a 140-page OGN with Antony Johnston called 'Closer' for Oni Press," says Mikey N. "It's a good ol' fashioned horror/thriller. I'm really happy with the way it's turning out. After that, I'll be starting a three-issue arc on 'Queen & Country'." You may have just heard that last part here first.

Of course, everyone knows Mike is also the art director for Devil's Due Publishing, providing graphic design and a cover or two occasionally for all them licensed 80s books like "G.I. Joe" and "Voltron." And when he's not at work drawing robots, he's at home drawing robots.

"'Jason & the Argobots' ain't over, ya know," Mike reminds readers. "There are several more stories to tell." Did I mention something about an exciting announcement? Really, folks, stay tuned!

Meanwhile, enjoy some design art from "Closer"…


SCOTT CHANTLER: HE'S SO FINE

[Days Like This]I've come to learn that people named Scott tend to be busy, creative, productive fellas. That includes Scott Chantler who collaborated with me on "Days Like This." Published last spring by Oni Press, the graphic novel recently made it on one of the American Library Association's recommended reading lists. So, what has Scott been up to these days?

"Since August, I've been busy animating 'Shoebox Zoo', a new TV series that blends live action and CG animation," says Scott. "It's a joint production of BBC Scotland and Blueprint Entertainment." He's also been busy with illustration work this past year, contributing art to magazines like the New York Daily News, Maclean's, Atlanta Magazine, Cottage Life, Masthead, and Computer Source Magazine.

"Comics-wise, I've slowly but surely been producing artwork for 'Scandalous,' a new graphic novel by myself and some hack who writes Teen Titans comics," he notes with nothing but respect and admiration in his voice.

If all goes according to plan, "Scandalous" should be out by the fall from Oni Press. "People are going to thrill to the idea of huggable, loveable J. Torres writing a comic about people stabbing each other in the back," Scott continues respectfully and admiringly. "And the art's not bad, either."

When he's done that, Scott plans to go to work on his first solo effort for Oni on a project he describes as "a historical adventure set in the Canadian west, which follows a band of fur traders who get caught up in a war between the English and the French." Chic alors!

But spunky little Scotty also been busy away from the drawing table: "Last May 22nd, my wife Shari and I welcomed our first child, a son named Miles [named after Miles Davis]." Miles is ten months old now, and it's his father's completely fair and unbiased opinion that "he's the cutest and most intelligent baby in the history of the childbirth."

Here's a sneak peek at "Scandalous"…


STEVE ROLSTON: A PAIR OF SHORTS

Steve Rolston and I first jammed together on a short story for the "9-11: Artists Respond" benefit book. Then he did one of the stories in the "Sidekicks Super Fun Summer Special" last year. I returned that favor by taking reference photos of Toronto for his graphic novel "One Bad Day."

"Since finishing 'One Bad Day', I've mostly been busy working on some pitches and proposals," says Steve. He's also been working on a 16-page webcomic that he wants to keep tight-lipped about until it's closer to completion. "I've had to put it on the backburner while I illustrate 'Queen & Country' #25, a special double-sized stand-alone issue," he explains. His return to the Eisner Award winning series he helped launch will be out this summer and around the same time as the "Queen & Country Scriptbook." "The scriptbook will be filled with Greg Rucka's scripts for the first four issues of the series, as well as some of my old sketches and thumbnails," continues Steve. "It also sports a new cover which I drew and colored."

I'll soon be visiting Vancouver where Steve lives and he promises to take me to the aquarium.

Here's an OYM exclusive, some of Steve's design work for Warren Ellis' "Mek"…


SCOTT MORSE: BUT OF COURSE

As reported in a previous column, 2003 was a pretty big year for Scott Morse (who also drew, among other things, a short story in the "Sidekicks Super Fun Summer Special"). But he ain't showing signs of slowing down at all this year. He just finished up art direction chores on "Catscratch", a pilot for Nickelodeon based on Doug Tennapel's "Gear" comic, as well as a couple of fill-in issues for "Plastic Man" for DC (you can pre-order issue #7 now). He's also working on a couple of "Escapist" shorts for Dark Horse, as well as the graphic novels "Lyrical Whales" for Top Shelf, plus "Spaghetti Western" and "Everest: Facing the Goddess" (with Greg Rucka) for Oni.

What was I saying earlier about fellas named Scott?

All this and he has time to paint covers…

MIKE HAWTHORNE: MY MIKE SOUNDS NICE, CHECK TWO!

Mike Hawthorne and I haven't actually collaborated on anything that's seen print yet, but I wanted to include him here. The first thing we worked on was a short story that was supposed to appear in a benefit book for victims of child abuse, but the project never happened. And then Mike and I were supposed to do a miniseries about female gladiators for NBM called "Sparta", but that got delayed. Not that he hasn't had other things to keep him artistically occupied.

"I've been really busy lately," says my man Mike H. who I also interviewed a couple of months ago about his new graphic novel "Hysteria." As I write this, Mike is currently on his first-ever vacation with his ever-growing family (big sister Sophia has a nine-month-old sister named Maria now). A well-deserved break too as he just finished working on the miniseries "Ruule" for Beckett Comics as well as his run on the latest "Queen & Country" arc.

When he gets back from holiday, he'll start work on "The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty" for Beckett. "As you may have guessed [this] is a fantasy western," explains Mike. "I've started designs and such, and so far it's looking really cool."

And maybe when he's done that, we can finally get to work on "Sparta." Oh, wait. I have to script it first.

In the meantime, here's a look at his work on "Queen & Country"…

ABSENT FRIENDS

Lastly, there were a few people I couldn't get in touch with or didn't hear back from in time for this column, including Mike Wieringo (who did a cover and short story for "Sidekicks"), J. Bone (co-creator of "Alison Dare"), and Makoto Nakatsuka (artist on the "X-Men: Ronin" miniseries I wrote). There were also a few people that I didn't think to contact until it was too late (Sorry, Arthur! Sorry, Dario! Sorry, Keron!). Plus, I wondered if I should include some of the artists I'm currently working with. Perhaps what I should do is consider a sequel to this column someday...

In any case, I hope you enjoyed catching up with the Tim, Francis, Takeshi, Mike, Scott, Steve, Scott, and Mike as much as I did and look forward to all their new projects!

(Including the ones involving me.)

Related Links:


Scott Chantler
Mike Hawthorne
Francis Manapul
Scott Morse
Mike Norton
Steve Rolston

OPEN YOUR MAIL

Michael Joyce of Toronto, Ontario writes:

Dear Mr. Torres,

My name is Michael Joyce. I am currently studying screenwriting at Ryerson and have been trying to break into comic book writing for some time. I've submitted to most companies who accept unsolicited submissions with little luck. Those who write back (Antarctic Press, Tokyopop) usually say my ideas are good, but that it's very hard for them to accept submissions unaccompanied by art.

I recently visited the Marvel webpage and was surprised to see that they accept query letters from writers. It suggests that writers should write a letter "detailing your writing experience and why you would like to write for Marvel" as opposed to sending writing samples. Yet it still insists that an idea submission form be included. I find this a little confusing. If I write a letter stating that I am an unpublished writer with no real experience and can tell them nothing about my ideas for their characters, why would they ever write back requesting a sample? I thought that as a writer/industry insider you might have some info regarding this policy or some suggestions about what to put in the query letter.

Any input you might have would be most appreciated. As I indicated above, I recognize that you may not have time to reply to e-mails such as this. I will continue to enjoy your writing, nonetheless.

Michael,

If you ask me, forget about the letter of query to Marvel. They hire experienced writers for the most part (both within and from outside comics), so you need to cut your teeth elsewhere. And/or try to establish contact with a Marvel editor who works with new talent. But that's a lot easier said than done. Better yet, establish a relationship with an artist and start putting together some comic books to show what you can do. Read this week's column and see if you can learn something from my experiences. That's really the best advice I can give you. Good luck!

Devin Dion of Glenn Ellyn, Illinois writes:

Dear CBR,

While I was surfing Marvel.com, I recently viewed a page that quite intrigued me, the internships. It had never entered my mind that such a thing could exist, but that lead to two fears, location and age. I was afraid that Marvel HQ was in New York and I would thus already have no chance there. But what restricts me from traveling there is my age. I'm 16 going 17 soon and I would love to be an intern, but would they accept me? I was hoping you could answer that question and if you knew of any other comic publishing corporations near Chicago, I believe DC is, that I may perhaps be able to apply to.

Devin,

I interviewed some former comic book company interns in a column last October. Make sure to check it out as I'm sure you can learn a lot from it. The folks I talked to explain what is expected of interns by comic book publishers, how they got their internships, and what potential interns should expect from the whole experience.

Btw, DC Comics is based in New York City. The only comic company I can think of in Chicago is Devil's Due. As for the age issue, it really depends on the company as some places want college students while others may take on high school students depending on what they're looking for (experience, skills, etc.). Good luck!

Next week: I'm off to British Columbia to attend the Vancouver Comicon as well as take in a little R&R, but writer B. Clay Moore will be filling in for me with a column about the thriving comic scene in and around Kansas City.

Meanwhile, drop by the OYM forum and let me know what you thought of this week's column.

Thank you for your attention.

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