Dead Is Subjective: Josh Howard talks 'Dead @ 17'

Wed, December 10th, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

It's not easy being the new kid on the block, the position that Viper Comics has found themselves in, and a hurdle in launching their new book, "Dead @17." Of course, it's even harder to keep issues of said series in stock when they're selling out all over the country. To talk about the success of the series, writer/artist Josh Howard spoke to CBR News briefly about the series and why the series is heating up many a message board.

"It's basically a story about two teenage girls who become entangled in a strange supernatural conspiracy taking place in their home town," explained Howard. "It is a story, at its heart, about friendship and destiny."

The series also focuses on two main characters, whom Howard doesn't want to discuss in detail quite yet, as there are a lot of character surprises on the way. "The main characters named Nara and Hazy, who happen to be best friends. They were inspired by a lot of girls I've either hung around with, dated, or been married to."

As mentioned earlier, it's not overly easy to market a new series from a relatively unknown creator and company, but Howard laughs and admits it never crossed his mind during the creative process. "I never gave two thoughts to marketing. I just made the kind of story I would like to read, and hopefully other people will as well. I really hated it when people started labeling it as a horror comic....because to me it's more than that, and that label can carry a lot of stigma. And of course, the main difficulty about getting it out there is just the fact that no one's heard of me!"

From the description that Howard gave of the series, it's easy to see why many reviewers have compared the comic to the "Buffy" television series, but it's also simple to understand why that comparison doesn't sit well with the "Dead @ 17" creator. "I think every interview I've done and every review I've read has made that comparison. I understand people have the need to label things, or to make comparisons, which is fine. I personally have never seen Buffy, so it doesn't really bother me. I think once people read it they will see the differences.

"I am also aware of the overuse of 'chosen ones,' whether it be Star Wars, Buffy, Matrix, or whatever. It was a tough issue to handle without it coming across as clich. They way I ended up handling it is that Nara is just one of many, this story just happens to be about her. There are several Resurrected running around out there...and the how's and why's will all be revealed later."

If you're just jumping onboard the series with the recently released #2 or haven't been able to find the issues, don't worry- Howard plans to release new mini-series frequently and make the comic very accessible. "Then tentative plan is to do a series of mini series. How long it lasts I guess really depends on how long people are interested in the story. There is a lot more story to tell, but there is a definite end, I just don't know for sure how soon that will come."

The most dominant theme in the issues thus far has been knowledge- whether it be of one's self, others, or your place in life- and Howard's happy at how many have noticed that. "That is something I really tried hard to incorporate. A lot of it came out of the things I was going through when I came up with the story. I wanted to touch upon the concept of strength of character....what makes a person who they are and what determines how he/she handles the worst life has to offer. The old phrase 'What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger' takes on a whole new meaning in Nara's case."

Keeping that in mind, the general tenor for "Dead @17" has been one of fun and making the fantastic, well, fantastic. "That is my natural style, but I am very aware of the lack of 'fun' in comics today. It seems the direction has been going more and more gritty and realistic. I could care less how Captain America would really act and look if he were a living, breathing person. It seems everyone's too concerned with making comics like 'Sopranos,' '24,' or whatever the hottest TV show happens to be at any given time. It's frustrating to me."

While some creators will assume full creative duties on comic book series because they don't want anyone else interpreting their vision, Howard does the art and scripting because he always felt the former was his strong suit. "The funny thing is that I always felt that illustrating was my strength. But based on feedback I've gotten so far, I might have to rethink that. It seems to be the story that people have really latched on to. But I just enjoy doing it all myself. I think it's the purest way to tell a story. Would I ever consider having someone else illustrate it? Maybe. I don't know."

With "Dead @17" being Howard's first official comic work, he's happy with the response and says "thank you" to all the fans. "Definitely more. The positive feedback I've gotten has been absolutely overwhelming. I am more than grateful. To have my first work so well received is a blessing."

So what's next from Viper Comics & "Dead @17?" "By issue 4, a lot of people are gonna get hurt. I don't see everyone making it out alive..."

 
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