Five Questions With Creators: Stephanie Phillips

The final order cutoff date for Devil Within is Sept. 10.

By Zack Quaintance — Stephanie Phillips new book Devil Within (out Oct. 3 from Black Mask Studios) caught my attention after I hear her discussing it on a panel at San Diego Comic Con. It’s no stretch to say that 2018 has been a banner year for horror comics, and Devil Within seems to fit squarely into that, while also staying ground in something most readers will surely relate to — a shared romantic relationship.

We recently caught up with Stephanie to ask her about her new book Devil Within. Stephanie is also involved with a pretty diverse set of pursuits outside of comics, ranging from academia to Muay Thai and hockey. We also used this as an opportunity to talk to her about all of that, and how (if it all) it connects with her writing.

Without further adieu, here is this week’s edition of Five Questions with Creators!

1. Okay, so first things first…can I start by asking about your background as a writer? Just from taking a quick look at your website, it seems super interesting and also intellectually diverse…

I have an MA in English and I am a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Writing (currently dissertating). I also teach technical communication in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University at Buffalo. I have worked as a technical writer, an editor, a journalist, and a writing teacher. Besides my brief stint making sandwiches at a Firehouse Subs in Florida, most of my jobs have centered on writing.   

2. I heard you describe your forthcoming book from Black Mask, Devil Within, at SDCC…and it sounds terrifying. What kind of experience should readers expect when we pick up this comic?

The main focus of the story is actually trust and relationships. I think back to old slasher movies where a couple is in peril and one person has to watch their lover get slaughtered in some horrific manner. Loss of love is terrifying, but I want to explore what it means to lose love while also being terrified of the person you love. What if the monster is sharing a bed with you?

Reveals and jump scares don’t work in comics the same way they might in a movie, so we are definitely going for a more psychologically stimulating scare that calls into question who we trust and let into our lives, while also showing off some creepy creatures. Maan’s storytelling and monsters should definitely make your skin crawl.

Rising comic writer Stephanie Phillips. 

3. The book is also set in the Philippines…what role does Filipino mythology play in the book?

I don’t want to give too much away, but a lot of our creatures are based in Filipino mythology, if not directly taken from mythology. The story also focuses on Filipino cultural practices surrounding possession. As I have said before, DEVIL WITHIN is based on a true story. Using the actual events as a jumping off point, I tried to stay authentic to the experiences of the people who witnessed what they believe was a demonic possession. One interesting thing I learned about Cebu is that a friend of mine who lived in the Philippines actually had a school day canceled on account of possessions. Snow days, hurricane days, possession days… makes sense.

4. So, compared to the academic writing, personal essays, and journalism you’ve done…how is writing comics different and do you have to drastically alter your approach?

This is actually a really tough question. There is absolutely crossover with everything I write, and I would like to think that my degrees, at the very least, qualify me to write a grammatically sound sentence. Pinpointing what bleeds into my comic writing from my time as an academic writer is a bit tough, but I think the biggest takeaway from working in technical communication is how best to work with my teams. Comics are extremely collaborative, and that means communication is essential. When I explain to Maan what I envision for a page, I need to be able to write in a way that allows Maan to clearly interpret all the things happening in my brain without taking away his creative license, but still providing enough detail to where he isn’t left in the dark. It’s actually a super interesting process and I could write an entire dissertation on it… oh wait, I am!

Kicking Ice from Stephanie Phillips and Jamie Jones is coming soon.

5. Aside from Devil Within, what other upcoming comics projects are you currently at work on? 

So much! KICKING ICE, drawn by Jamie Jones, is at the printer and will be out in the wild very soon. I am also working on a short story with Top Cow set in the Postal universe, and three secret projects that I can’t talk much about yet, but I promise they are big and I am really, really excited about them.

+1. So, you’re an accomplished beer league hockey player, and some of the proceeds from your all-ages graphic novel Kicking Ice went to help the National Women’s Hockey League grow women’s hockey…if you weren’t writing, what are the odds you’d be spending even more time on the ice?

Actually, if I wasn’t writing and teaching, I think I would be spending more of my time in a boxing ring than an ice rink! I absolutely love to play hockey, but I was never good enough to reach the level needed to play professionally. As a Muay Thai fighter, however, I had a number of bouts and worked as a trainer at a local gym in Florida. The more writing projects I took on, the less time I could spend training and fighting. I still train for fun once in a while, but I don’t think I will be stepping back in the ring for the time being (my mom is thrilled about this). 

Check out our other Five Questions with Creators pieces and other Comics Lists here!

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at@zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Five Questions With Creators: David Moses LeNoir

By Zack Quaintance — David Moses LeNoir sent us his first comic earlier this year, saying a review would be cool but more than that he just wanted to share it. That, I think, is indicative of a passion for writing and drawing (both of which he does...and does well, too) that also shows in his work. Dave, as you’ll read in a moment, is heavily influenced by Jack Kirby, both in aesthetic and in the sort of larger than life (yet grounded in dynamics) stories he likes to tell.

The best way to get to know him (in addition to the questions below) is probably to read his comic, which is available here (and highly recommended). You can also find him on Twitter @MosesLeNoir and his ongoing comic @GJSwmlf. It’s called Galactic Junk Squad (Well, More Like Family), described by its Twitter page as a cosmic cacophony about a family of space beings who run an intergalactic junkyard. The book is written and drawn by LeNoir, with lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. Think Jack Kirby writing/drawing a dysfunctional family sitcom and you’ll have a decent idea of what to expect.

The cover for issue #1.

Anyway, enough! Onward to the five questions…

Q: I think the phrase I see most often associated with Galactic Junk Squad (Well, More Like Family) is Kirby-esque…what kind of relationship do you have with Jack Kirby’s work?

A: For me, Kirby attains a level of dynamic energy and has a connection to the marrow of life that is unmatched in comics. I haven’t been able to shake the purity of his creative expression. His imagination was unhinged from limitation, and he used it in service to humanity - to pursue tough questions. Kirby is equal parts artist, philosopher, and prophet. For example, he did an interview alongside Carmine Infantino where he reveals the underpinnings of the Fourth World, which dealt with the effects of technology on humanity; he was both prescient and ambivalent as a futurist. But his exploration of technology always came back to his philosophical center: the struggles and potential of the human spirit. I think that’s the thing for me: wherever Jack goes he pushes the boundaries, but the core is always humanity.

Q: So then, can you narrow it down to a top 5 of favorite Kirby creations?

A: That’s a tough one! Many people think Jack needed editing, but I disagree. Most of my favorite stuff from him was what he wrote for himself. Top of the list has got to be Forever People, simply for the subjects he tackled: fascism, the promises and pitfalls of youth, and the practical failure of heroism that is, somehow, ultimately hopeful. It’s extremely relevant today. Close behind that is the rest of the Fourth World, which was massive in scope, but dealt with mundane circumstances; like, here are gods that have to disguise themselves and deal with bureaucracy or bullets or Darkseid - the embodiment of evil - chilling on their couch! Next, 2001: A Space Odyssey, mostly because of the beautiful cosmic absurdity. I feel like he was the most unfiltered in that series. It was pure, high-concept Kirby philosophy. And Mike Royer, who’s my favorite inker for Jack, does some truly beautiful work there. Next, it’s mid-to-late era Fantastic Four. Sinnott’s inks were incredible, and Lee did great work interpreting Jack’s story sense - not to mention, the FF are the foundation for the Marvel Universe. Then, I think, everything Black Panther that he did, because Jack wanted to push the conversation forward. He knew he was writing mostly for kids, so he built in assumptions that countered the general American narrative about race. The period of his work between 1967-1976 was where I think he hit his strongest stride.

Q: I know you mentioned that this was your first comic. Can you talk about where the idea for this book came from and how it developed into a fully-formed comic?

A: Before this, I wrote a full five-issue arc of a comic in an entirely different style, and I was planning on farming out the art duties. My wife kept prodding me to do the art, but I didn’t feel ready. Then one day we were driving out of town when suddenly this thought poked into my head: “hillbilly space family that runs a junkyard in space,” and for the rest of the night I couldn’t stop thinking about it. This was the thing I knew I wanted to draw, and I was going to pack as much Kirby crackle and reflective metal into it as I could! So I took that initial idea and started teasing it out into a script. It became a cute little one-shot with a happily-ever-after ending. But in the process of drawing it, I thought, what if it didn’t end there? It became a sandbox for me, where I could explore any and all ideas that I have. So more characters, like The Catastrophe Twins, started surfacing. More and more of the mythos of this world developed, and even though it became decidedly less “hillbilly” than the original idea, I wanted to try and retain a humorous element.

Q: The banter in this book strikes me as being as witty as a well-done sitcom. What are some of your favorite TV family comedies?

A: Thank you! That’s nice to hear because I feel like I’m not particularly good at banter. Brooklyn 99 is a modern classic. I feel like each show has at least one big laugh. Definitely the first three seasons of Arrested Development - I am in awe at what Mitch Hurwitz was able to do with thirty plot threads and subtlety. The IT Crowd is another one. Also, reaching way back, the Dick Van Dyke Show, which my wife and I have watched through three times.

David Moses LeNoir, as drawn by his 3-year-old daughter.

Q: Not to be too intrusive, but has your own family read your work, and if so, has there been any feedback?

A: Yes! Good feedback, actually! We’re all very supportive of each other’s creative endeavors. All of the family that has read it has been encouraging. Even if comics may not be their “thing,” they still support it. I haven’t gotten, “Hey, is that supposed to be about me??” Really, I have not been writing it in a way where I’m directly referencing things that have actually happened, or where characters are based on my family members. If anything, the Galactic Junk Squad (Well, More Like Family) represents different sides of myself, each vying for dominance - or at least a modicum of control - and I say, “Let’s see what happens when it all falls apart.” I want to make it as human and relatable as I can, but set it against a crazy cosmic backdrop.

+1: Funniest family drama story you’re able/willing to share…

A: When I was probably two or three, my brother told my mom that he wanted a TV for his room for Christmas. This was back in the 80’s when there was just one TV in most homes. My mom said, “Get realistic,” and I said, “Yeah, get real lipstick!

Check out our other Five Questions with Creators pieces and other Comics Lists here!

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Five Questions With Creators: Ryan Cady

Infinite Dark is slated for release Oct. 10.

By Zack Quaintance — Ryan Cady will make his Marvel debut this coming Wednesday, writing a backup story drawn by Hayden Sherman for the Old Man Logan Annual. The month after that, he’s launching one of the darker creator-owned books to be solicited all year. How dark? Infinitely so (the book’s title is Infinite Dark).

I could continue prattling about his credentials and how he’s basically the definition of an exciting creator to watch, but instead I’ll step aside now as Ryan answers our latest set of five questions with creators (plus one extra one about fast food)...

1. So, I had a chance to read the preview of Infinite Dark from SDCC. Really great stuff! Where did the idea for this story come from and what was your process like for taking it from idea to a fully-realized comic?

Thanks man! I’ve had the idea for quite awhile. It came out of some pretty rough, bleak times in my life, and I sort of hung onto this idea of “survival as a virtue.” Wanting to explore that, I turned toward this mishmash of horror ideas I’d had about the Heath Death of the Universe, listened to some really appropriate dark/emo music, and synthesized it all into a plot. It was just about bringing all those disparate kernels together under that theme, and getting it to be something Andrea wanted to create together.

2. The concept of the book and the preview left me feeling lonely and almost outside of myself…what sort of headspace did you have to get in while writing this story and developing these characters?

Like I said before, I was in a hard place. 2017 was the worst year of my life, personal-life wise. I moved across the country for a relationship that started crumbling, I lost of lot of support structures, some friendships collapsed, money was tight – I felt kind of lost out there. But coming out of that – surviving at any cost and finding a home even if it’s not who you were before…that’s sort of where I was when it finally became time to script. And even if the story starts off as bleak as can be, in pure empty oblivion, I promise there is hope for these characters. Even if they don’t have much yet, themselves.

3. Andrea Mutti’s art is so good, such an interesting hard sci-fi aesthetic. What is the collaboration process between the two of you like?

Andrea Mutti is one of the most enthusiastic people in comics. He’s always cheery, always excited, always pushing me. I have a lot of close character thoughts, but he’s always so good about making sure I remember the dynamism of comics, the big images and dramatic action that can precede or even help further convey those moments. Plus, he uses a lot of friendly emojis in his emails that just always make my day.

Hayden Sherman's art (via Twitter) for Cady's story in Old Man Logan Annual, out Sept. 5.

4. What can you tell us about the story you’re writing for next month’s Old Man Logan Annual, from what I understand it’s an excerpt from Frank Castle’s War Journal…

Oh man, I could not be more ecstatic about my Marvel debut, man. This story is…Well, it’s an examination of Frank Castle – one of the most nihilistic dudes in the Marvel Universe – traversing the Wastelands of the Old Man Logan timeline – easily the most nihilistic time period of the Marvel Universe. And while that sounds bleak and brutal and awful (and the story is, at times), where we’re taking Frank still gives him a leg to stand on. A crusade. He’s going to encounter some people who want to recreate the mistakes of the past, and he’s having none of it.

5. So, when you haven’t been mentally inhabiting post-heat death survivalist scenarios or alternate future stories about whatever-it-takes vigilantism…what comics, books, TV, movies, music, etc. have you been consuming lately?

Ha! Well, I’m a huge D&D fan, so I play in a couple campaigns and I’m a huge fan of the Adventure Zone podcast. I like podcasts and audiobooks cause I drive a lot and listen to ‘em when I do chores, etc. So I’m big on TAZ and the Magnus Archives, and I’m doing my best to work through a lot of the “Top Horror Novels of All Time,” and try to get back to my roots, as it were. Comics-wise, I’ve actually been trying to go back and read more formative, classic stuff – I just finished Transmetropolitan, some old X-Men runs, a few Ennis stories…Like I said, trying to shore up my roots.

The Beefy Crunch Burrito in all its...glory?

+1. As a noted fast food connoisseur, what if any fast food products are most likely to survive the heat death of the universe and why?

Taco Bell re-releases the Beefy Crunch Burrito once every couple years, and everyone loves it, but they never keep it around for long, even though demand is crazy high and it’s easy to make with ingredients they mostly keep on hand anyway. I imagine that somewhere on board the Orpheus there’s some kind of future Taco Bell, and even though all food is available with matter processors, even though there’s no actual time or seasons or anything, they STILL only release the fucking thing once a year, just to torture these poor people.

Check out our other Five Questions with Creators pieces and other Comics Lists here!

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Five Questions with Creators: Charlie Stickney

White Ash #1 by Charlie Stickney and Conor Hughes.

By Zack Quaintance — Charlie Stickney is the comic writer behind White Ash, which just recently completed its third successful Kickstarter. White Ash, as we wrote in our February 2018 New Discoveries, is a compelling and well-done comic that combines bits of classic fantasy stories with a star-crossed lovers conflict and sets the whole thing in rural Pennsylvania—it’s well worth checking out.

Anyway, Charlie was also kind enough to take some time out to talk to us for Five Questions with Creators feature, discussing White Ash, Kickstarter comics versus indie publishing, and advice for comics writers who are just starting out.

Let’s do it!

1. How many Kickstarter campaigns have you done for White Ash?

This is our third Kickstarter for White Ash. We’ve been incredibly fortunate that we’ve been successful on all three outings and that each has progressively built upon the last. If all things continue to go well, a Kickstarter for Chapter Four should be live sometime late in October or early in November.

White Ash #2.

2. What have you learned about how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign in the process?

This is a HUGE topic. There are websites like comixlaunch that devote (really informative) weekly podcasts to the subject. I will say though, for me, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that a big misconception people have about Kickstarter is they think making a great comic and putting it on the platform will be enough. And that’s not the case. You have to understand how the Kickstarter algorithm works. Kickstarter only makes money when your project funds. So projects that are doing well are promoted. Projects that don’t have a surge of backers, don’t get any love…no matter how great they are. So, you need to make sure that to get funded on Kickstarter, that you kickstart your campaign on Kickstarter. That means on day one, you need a bunch of backers lined up. For our most recent campaign, we had a huge surge of returning backers that got us off to an amazing start, which eventually carried us to over $23,000 in funding.

But for our first campaign, when nobody had heard about White Ash, that meant making sure we had enough people lined up who would pledge right off the bat to help create that surge to get the ball rolling. One way or another, you need a big pool of day one backers.

White Ash #3.

3. What are some of the advantages of funding your comic through a Kickstarter campaign?

We use Kickstarter as a pre-sales distributor. So in essence, it’s our version of Previews Catalogue. From that perspective it has a lot of advantages. While the actual Previews has a larger reach, we’re still seen by a huge number of people who buy comics. And the percentage of revenue we give to Kickstarter is only a fraction of what we would give to Diamond (and currently we are self-published so there’s no publisher fee/cut). Which means we’re making more on Kickstarter per issue than we would on the stands in a comic book shop. Plus, we still own all of the intellectual property rights, so if someone wanted to turn White Ash into a TV series or a movie, we’d again be the ones making the money.  

4. What advice would you give a would-be creator who has an idea for a book right now on how to go from idea to physical comic?

I think it depends on what the creator’s background is and how much experience they have with the art form. But let’s assume for the sake of this question that they’re a writer with a little experience and a decent understanding of the medium. If that’s the case, there two things they need: a finished script and an artist/team of artists to work with. And they won’t be able to get the second without the first.

So start with the script. Don’t just hash around ideas. If you want another professional to work with you, you need to show them what you’re bringing to the table. So write the entire script out.  Once you have a script in hand that you think is ready for prime time, then you can go looking for an artist. Jim Zub has a website with some amazing advice for writers (and comic professionals in general). He devotes an entire post to finding an artist. I recommend reading that, and everything else on his blog. But where I’d personally recommend someone go nowadays to find an artist is Twitch Creative. There you watch them live stream their art, chat with them, and get a sense of what they like to draw. This is important, because finding an artist for your book is a lot like dating, you need to be compatible. Just because you’re both great on your own, doesn’t mean you’re going to be great together. Then once you find that partner, get cracking, because making a comic book is a lot of work.

5. For fans of White Ash, is there anything you can give away about where the story and characters are headed?

One of the nice things about self-publishing is that we get to tell the story at my pace. And I’ve really enjoyed taking my time over the first three, extra-long issues, getting to know the characters and the town of White Ash. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy good action sequences. And without giving too much away, I can say we’re going to get a lot of action in Chapter Four. It’s the climax to our first story arc and we’re wrapping some bits up with a BANG…and some slicing…and skewering…and, well, you get the idea.

Charlie Stickney and Conor Hughes at San Diego Comic Con.

Charlie Stickney is a writer/producer from Los Angeles who has worked in various fields of the entertainment industry (animation, film, television) for close to 20 years. He’s written for companies including: Universal Studios, Sony Pictures, Revolution Studios, and Scholastic Productions, developed and creating shows like Cosmic Quantum Ray and Horrible Histories. Charlie has always had a passion for comics. While in college, he interned in the editorial offices at Marvel Comics. And were it not for a job offer in Los Angeles, the plan after graduation was to move to New York to write comic books. But now, after a longer detour than intended, he’s returned to his roots with the fantasy/romance/horror comic book, White Ash. Billed as Romeo and Juliet meets Lord of the Rings…in rural Pennsylvania, White Ash: Chapter Three just finished an insanely successful run on Kickstarter.

Check out our other Five Questions with Creators pieces and other Comics Lists here!

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.


Five Questions with Creators: Zack Kaplan

Zack Kaplan

By Zack Quaintance —  Writer Zack Kaplan is on the rise in comics. He’s currently writing three new and exciting series: Eclipse and Port of Earth for Image’s Top Cow imprint, and Lost City Explorers for AfterShock Comics. Both Eclipse and Lost City Explorers have also been optioned for TV, with the latter getting the call pretty quick after its first issue. It’s impressive stuff, and as fans of his work, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more success coming Kaplan’s way soon.

With that in mind, we recently talked to Kaplan for a new feature we’re launching on the site: Five Questions with Creators. It’s exactly what it sounds like. No more explaining, let’s get right to it!

1. I’ve seen in other interviews and your own notes with Eclipse that you’ve had some pretty interesting, what are the most interesting jobs you’ve had (aside from creating comics)?

I mean, people may know I was a poker dealer and a SAT tutor, but I’ll tell you, one of the most interesting jobs I had was a movie trailer surveyor. I did temp work for a data entry company and they would input surveys measuring audience reaction to movie trailers. I punched in thousands of these surveys, and then I asked, hey, who does this? Someone goes to movie theaters and watches how the audience reacts to each trailer and gives it an “Okay” or “Good” or “Great”, and sure enough, there were a ton of people doing this around the country and sending in their data. So I said, “Can I do that?” and they said sure. For about two months, I went and watched movies and before the movie started, I would go to the different theaters and showtimes and gauge audience reaction, which was a completely subjective and random measurement. My own personal evaluation of whether people thought that Mission Impossible movie trailer looked good or great. It was a very random guess, but they reported this data to the studios, and they probably made pivotal decisions based on my keen insights. And I got to tell people I get paid to go watch movies. That was pretty interesting!

2. How do things like having been a poker dealer on the graveyard shirt or having taught screenwriting in the Philippines inform your stories?

I’m a big people watcher. I’ve always enjoyed jobs that allow me to watch and interact with people. Characters in stories are three dimensions, but people are like eight dimensions, and I’ve always found that fascinating. Being a poker dealer, I got to see a lot of interesting people and how they handle the challenges of an involved game like poker, but that was mostly people-watching. Teaching writing is a far more interactive practice, where you have to not just communicate the principles of the craft, but in a workshop setting, identify each student’s needs and address them in a way that helps that student improve. At the end of the day, I think all those experiences help me better understand that people are complex, and I try to capture those complexities and nuances in my writing.

Port of Earth #8 came out this Wednesday.

3. When and how did you first become interested in writing comics?

It began in 2002 when I came back to comics. I had read superheroes growing up, but when I discovered Brian K Vaughn’s Y THE LAST MAN or Greg Rucka’s QUEEN AND COUNTRY or everything Warren Ellis, I realized how diverse and multi-faceted the medium was. I got to see it through adult eyes and gained a whole new appreciation for it. I began reading and collecting a lot of creator-owned comics. I was already pursuing writing in film and TV, but I think that was when the seed was planted: cool writers write cool and original stories in comics. From then, whenever I thought of a story idea, and wondered if it would make a good movie or TV show, I started to wonder about comics. And finally, I took the plunge and decided I wanted to write a comic series too. I spent years trying to land a pitch. When I finally landed ECLIPSE, I still thought I was writing a comic, and it wasn’t until it came out that I realized I was becoming a comic book creator.

4. Your career trajectory has been really cool to watch...what’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to someone who is where you were years ago and would love to eventually be where you are now?

When I finally landed ECLIPSE, I was very nervous. I’m a perfectionist and I wanted it to be great. And that’s simply too much pressure. So, I had to tell myself, Zack, this is not the one. This series, it can be good, you can do your best, but in your life, this one isn’t the one. This is the one that leads to the one. And that allowed me to do two things. Write without such pressure. And realize another important lesson. If I’m just writing good stuff until I get to the one, and none of these are the one, then I’m the one. I’m the product. And as a writer, or an artist, or any creative, I think if you realize that you are building a career of many projects and stories, and some will be good, and some will not, but overall, you are building a long career of creating, that thinking helps. It helps new creators to think small and create a lot of short content to get their names out, it helps inspire creators to work on lots of projects, because you never know which one will be the one. Who knows, maybe ECLIPSE will actually be the one, after all. Maybe not. I’m just busy writing lots of stories now, I can’t think about which one is the one.

5. Lost City Explorers seems to me like a classic teen adventure story for 2018...what are some of your favorite classic teen adventure movies?

Oh, where to begin! GOONIES! INDIANA JONES! Is ET an adventure movie? I think so! How about NEVER ENDING STORY or EXPLORERS? LABYRINTH or BACK TO THE FUTURE? I loved all of that fun, maybe campy stuff from the ‘80s. But I think what inspired THE LOST CITY EXPLORERS was wanting to have my version of those stories but without the 1980s nostalgia. It seemed like whenever people made those stories, they always had a nostalgia to them. I wondered what would a teen adventure look like in modern times. I’ve seen teen dramas. I’ve seen big world teen stories like HARRY POTTER or HUNGER GAMES, but those aren’t our world. So yes, THE LOST CITY EXPLORERS is my teen adventure but in our very own modern times!

+1. Do you remember the worst sunburn you’ve ever had...and do you ever think about it while you’re writing Eclipse?

When I was growing up, I went on a ski trip and got my face so burned, the skin was peeling off. My nose was a mess, and, of course, I came back to high school and they were taking the class pictures. Ugh! But this was years and years ago. The crazy thing is nowadays, it’s not even enough to put on sunscreen once for a day at the beach or a day outside. You have to reapply. The sun is becoming more and more deadly to us. This is happening, and 50 years from now, who knows how bad it will be. That’s what I love about the concept behind ECLIPSE. The sun is supposed to be this positive, happy, plant-growing force in our lives, but everyone secretly harbors a hatred to the sun and the one time it totally burned them. Screw you sun, we never forget!

Click here for a review of Eclipse #9 and here for a review of Lost City Explorers #1.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Q&A: Toren Chenault, Author of New Superhero Novel 'Mystic Man'

Artwork by Jes Richardson from Cover Bistro

Artwork by Jes Richardson from Cover Bistro

We first met Toren Chenault on Twitter, where he was promoting a simple concept we liked: peace, love, and comics (also the name of his blog). Soon after, Toren started talking about a novel he planned to release this spring, a first building block in an extensive superhero universe. Dubbed Mystic Man after its protagonist, this novel is available online now via Amazon.

Everyone who works on our site (obviously) is a writer, and we all know how difficult it can be to finish short projects (let alone an entire book). Even though this his first published work, Toren has finished four. So, to inspire ourselves and our readers, we caught up with Toren to ask about his new book, his experience with self publishing, and what’s in store for his future.

Let’s do this!

Q: Where did you first get the idea for Mystic Man?
A: The idea has always been in my head, but the first time I really considered writing this story was after seeing Man of Steel. I love the film, and overall I enjoyed the things Zack Snyder tried to do with the character of Superman. Where he really missed the mark to me was in the realism of Superman. I just didn’t believe it. Maybe it’s the inherent white privilege I think Superman has, I’m not sure, but I saw what the film was trying to do—it just didn’t quite execute it. So, when I sat down afterward, I asked myself the question, “How would the world react to its first superhero being black?” That’s where the spark came from.

Q: What was your writing process like?
A: I wrote the majority of the book in college, and I got the writing done whenever I could. I actually had to take a year off from college because of financial issues. That lit a fire under me. I wrote a good chunk of the book then while working a full-time security job. When I got back in school, the book was basically done, but I still made time for revisions. It sounds cliche, but I just fit in writing wherever I could.

Q: You’re a comics fan...what made you pick the novel format as opposed to comic books?
A: Maybe there’s a fancier response to this question, but I don’t have one. I just love books and I want people to read more. I read comics growing up, but books like Ender’s Game, 1984, and Brave New World changed my life as a teen, really shaping the person I am now. Comics can do that too (and have for me) but books did it first. The way I wanted to tell this story works best with a book. But, I do plan on showing off Mystic Man’s world through comics someday, too.

Q: What are some lessons you learned from the writing/publishing process?
A: Mystic Man is actually the fourth book I’ve written. It’s just the first I’ve published. During this process, I learned the value of patience. I’m a patient guy, but it’s something all young writers struggle with—we want everything to be done now. I have a vision for Mystic Man, for my universe, and I get frustrated some days (most days) that people don’t know or care about what I have to say. And sometimes, that type of negativity can bleed into my work. Patience is key in novel writing or when building something as big as a universe. It’s going to take time, years in fact, but that’s okay. I learn more about it each day.

Q: Can you talk about self-publishing and what was it like navigating that space?
A: I didn’t publish the three other books I wrote, but I did try. I sent queries out to agents, publishers. Nobody gave a damn. I decided I wanted to be a writer and storyteller at age 17 once I read the last page of Ender's Game, and I put everything I had into getting better. Mystic Man isn’t the greatest novel ever written, but I think it’s time to show everyone how much I’ve grown since writing my first books. Wasting time with big publishers wasn’t productive, and honestly, this was liberating, navigating that space. I know the Ebook/Amazon market is oversaturated, but it was nice to handle everything myself and oversee everything about the book. If I didn’t self-publish, Mystic Man would be just another thing on my computer.

Q: What comes next for you and for the world you've created here?
A: More books. Mystic Man is the most powerful hero in my universe, but he isn’t the first. Other heroes have been around for a while and some are even in this first book. Next, I’ll be introducing the other heroes in my universe. They’re all different, but Mystic Man is the hero that inspires them to be better. The next hero readers will learn about is my personal favorite. Her name is Victoria Gonzalez, the Shade of San Juan. After her, we go to Africa, and meet former child soldier David Batu. He’s the DreamCrusher. They’re my Trinity so to speak. Each has different roots, different problems, and most importantly, different powers. I hope this continues to grow because like I said, I plan on showcasing these heroes in comics. It sounds like a lot, I know but I think it can be done. And it all starts with Mystic Man.


Toren Chenault, a native of the Cincinnati area, currently lives in Michigan with his girlfriend. A graduate of Michigan State University, he is a long-time superhero fan who counts Captain Atom, Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel, Daredevil, Divinity, Nightwing, and XO Manowar among his favorite heroes. Mystic Man is his first book. Buy it now here.