REFLECTIONS: Talking with Joshua Ortega

Sun, June 17th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Robert Taylor, Staff Writer

REFLECTIONS #211

Joshua Ortega and Francis Manapul in 2005.
"We want to explore some of these other worlds that you see when you look at the paintings."

One day, not so long ago, Jim McLauchlin handed me a slew of new Top Cow comics at a Wizard World Chicago show. I had never been a major Top Cow fan, in fact the only series I had read in the past was "Tomb Raider" and I was beginning to pick up "Witchblade" because Ron Marz was writing it. Yet Jim was rather enthusiastic about the comics he was giving me, most specifically, a little horror series by two unknown creators called "Necromancer."

Needless to say, I was blown away by the first issue and began pushing to book as hard as I could wherever I could. It took a while for buzz to start because it was such an offbeat book for Top Cow and no one really knew the creators, Joshua Ortega or Francis Manapul. And yet, just in time for the final issue of the miniseries, buzz was building.

And now the trade is coming out, the book has two Harvey nominations and Ortega's other book, "Death Dealer," is Image's number one selling comic.

Just pick up the damn trade, won't you? It bloody rocks.

I sat down with Ortega to talk "Necromancer," "Death Dealer" and loads more.

Story continues below

Robert Taylor: How's life going for you?

Joshua Ortega: Great. I'm in New York having a good time with a couple of projects.

RT: So, what are you up to right now? This moment?

JO: I'm working on "Viva Piata," an Xbox 360 game, which is also a Saturday morning cartoon on Fox Kids television, so I'm working on the franchise in general out here. I think we have a panel about it at San Diego.

RT: I'm very depressed I can't go. So are you being recognized more frequently at conventions now? I remember the first time we met no one knew who you were or what that little book you wrote called "Necromancer" was.

JO: Nothing too crazy. Name recognition, certainly, especially with "Death Dealer" in the last few months.

RT: Before we get to "Death Dealer," let's talk about the "Necromancer" trade paperback. Now remember when it was the little Top Cow book that no one was really paying attention to, except me of course [laughs], and now it has two Harvey nominations!

JO: It's really sweet!

RT: Did you know you were in the running? Did Top Cow tell you they submitted it?

JO: No, not at all. Another writer emailed me out of the blue telling me congratulations and then I saw that we got two Harvey nods. Francis [Manapul] and I synched up on it an hour later and celebrated.

RT: Anything new in the trade?

JO: Yeah. The main thing is an introduction by Mike Carey and I'm sure most comic fans know him by now. He's an awesome guy who was an early fan who really supported the book. There is going to be a lot of sketch and bonus material in the back, along with all the alternate covers. The design is great, too.

"Necromancer" #5
RT: What's the status of the new "Necromancer" miniseries?

JO: There is a new story that is coming out in fall, and it's tied into the "Pilot Season" event Top Cow is planning, but it's not a crossover.

RT: Is Francis coming back?

JO: Francis is going to do the covers. The guy who is doing the interiors is a great guy and everyone should be happy to know that he was hand-picked by Francis to follow up on his work. I think this guy will be perfect.

And for fans of the book, they will be happy to know he's actually from Colorado Springs!

RT: …

JO: That's pretty funny, you know, because the book is set there.

RT: I'm laughing on the inside, Josh, I promise. [laughs]

How many more "Necromancer" stories do you have planned?

JO: If it goes well this fall it will lead into Volume 2, which will have at least six more issues. I've really blocked it out in six issue arcs, and there is a roughly 48 to 50 issue overall story and hopefully I'll get to tell the entire story.

I mapped it out from the start to be a pretty big epic and hopefully over time I'll get to tell it all because I'm certainly up for telling it.

These Harvey nominations aren't hurting anything either. A lot of pros have been big supporters of the book and I think it just took a lot of people by surprise because it was a little different than what is normally released from Top Cow and sometimes it takes a little while for word to spread, but the trade will introduce it to an entirely new audience, from manga fans to bookstore fans.

"Frank Frazetta's Death Dealer" #1
RT: Onto "Death Dealer." In your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine it would sell out so fast and become Image's best selling book?

JO: I can't say that I didn't set a high bar, because I did. But me, Nat Jones and the entire creative team have been pleasantly surprised by the success of the book. We just went into a third printing and have 50,000 copies of the first issue in print and number two sold out. It's definitely exceeded our expectations in that sense.

RT: How did you hop onboard with the motley crew that is doing the book?

JO: A nice little combination of events. Steve Niles was scheduled to write, but he had too many things on his plate because he was handling the "30 Days of Night" movie and he and Nat thought I was the right person to take over. It really has worked out well.

I've known Nat for years and really wanted to work with him for awhile now. And I'd never met Jay, but now we are really good friends as well.

RT: Go into detail about how the writing of the book is broken down, because on the credits page it says you are a scripter, not the plotter.

JO: Basically Nat and Jay worked out a rough plot idea without character names and place names. But it was an idea of the story we were going to do that we basically stuck to. Then I came in and, with Nat, hammered it out some more. I fleshed it out, named the places, thought up a back story and gave it this epic world that the Frazetta's specifically asked for. They wanted something in the vein of "Lord of the Rings" that was timeless and epic.

RT: How big of a fan of Frank's work are you?

JO: Huge! He's amazing and completely unique and groundbreaking. It is such an honor.

The sales have been amazing, but the best part is that the family asked us specifically to print up the extra printings with their seal of approval because they are just that happy with the book. It's the first time they had a Death Dealer anything they are proud of.

RT: Now it's supposed to be a six-issue miniseries, but with sales as high as they are, are you going to open another miniseries or just take it into an ongoing?

JO: We have really cool stuff coming up. Probably coming up in "Death Dealer" #5 or #6 you'll see more. But the Frazetta's have asked us to bring to life Frank's other paintings. Now we can do a Frazetta universe with interconnected books. We will be doing a "Death Dealer" sequel, but that is not going to be the next thing, because we want to explore some of these other worlds that you see when you look at the paintings.

"Frank Frazetta's Death Dealer" #1, cover B
RT: Tell us more about the remaining issues of the miniseries.

JO: Basically more and more Death Dealer. We introduced him slowly as the series went on because we wanted him to be mysterious. You will learn the origin of this Death Dealer and then you will see lots of action. Things are ramping up and each issue is getting better and better. Now that we've introduced the cast, we can now play with them.

RT: When are you doing to do more superheroes?

JO: The first thing I did was a "Spider-Man Unlimited" story with Ryan Sook and since then I've had a number of projects stop and start. Me and Nat almost relaunched "Son of Satan," and were down to the last two. Ironically, I don't know if "Death Dealer" would have happened if that did, so everything happened as it should have.

RT: Alright, lightning round time! What was your first comic book?

JO: Not sure what the actual first book was, but I know that the Silver Surfer "Fantasy Masterpieces" reprints made the biggest impression on me when I was young - Stan Lee's writing and John Buscema's art, awesome stuff.

RT: What comics can you never miss?

JO: Anything by Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.

RT: What is your biggest strength as a writer?

JO: Dialogue and characterization are aspects of my writing that people really seem to dig - pacing as well. Oh yeah and I'm good with deadlines, which most editors seem to really appreciate!

RT: How about your biggest weakness?

JO: Superman would never tell you about his kryptonite weakness, would he? [laughs]

RT: What moment are you most proud of thus far in your writing career?

JO: My novel "((Frequencies))." It's what allowed me to do everything that I'm doing now and, in the early stages of the book's life, it was all DIY.

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"Frank Frazetta's Death Dealer" #1, pages 1 and 2
RT: Let's say you are writing a yearlong weekly comic book series with three other writers. Who would you most want them to be?

JO: Hmm, Mike Carey, Eric Nylund, and Grant Morrison. I think we'd all click, have a good time with it and get some interesting and provocative art out there.

RT: What is your favorite comic book of all time?

JO: Probably "Sandman" or "Watchmen" - though that's a tough question!

RT: What advice do you have for aspiring comic writers?

JO: Read good fiction, practice your craft, network with publishers and pros and always remember that it only takes ten years to become an overnight success story.

RT: If you could only write one book for the rest of your career, what would it be?

JO: Maybe an anthology book with a rotating cast of characters - something to keep it interesting. A lifetime can be a long time!

RT: Who would be your drawing partner?

JO: Francis Manapul. I could easily work with him on just about anything. I love working with Nat Jones, too, though I have a feeling that Nat's going to be known as a writer as much as an artist at some point in his career.

RT: What's the best comic book movie ever made?

JO: "X2," though the best superhero movie ever made in my opinion is "The Incredibles."

RT: What is your weirdest convention experience?

JO: Fortunately haven't a really weird one yet - knock on wood!

RT: If you were remembered for only one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?

JO: Creating art that either moved people - I think the best art in the world inspires and if my writing has done that, then I would have definitely succeeded in my career.

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