Justin Gray on Psychotic Reation and the Book's Mission

Justin Gray on Psychotic Reation

This November, Moonstone Books is releasing a graphic novella entitled Psychotic Reaction. It's interesting for both the story inside the pages as well as the path that led to this book.

The story itself revolves around a video game tester who is approached to test an experimental new piece of hardware. It's a cerebral chip, inserted directly into the brain to enable full sensory immersion into a game – see, smell, taste and even feel what's going on in the game. A thrilling thing for any gamer, but when people start dying in real life the ties to the game make Michael afraid for his own life.

Created by veteran comics writer Justin Gray (Jonah Hex, Terra), Gray partnered with European artist Thorsten Ebert by a connection with inker Marc Deering. Just after he finished the book in March, Ebert was involved in a terrible accident that has left him in a coma – unable to see his first published comic work come to life. Gray, Deering, colorist Paul Mounts and Moonstone Publisher Joe Gentile were spurred on to make this book for Thorsten and agreed to donate the proceeds of the book to Ebert's care.

The 48-page graphic novella is scheduled for a November release, and we now talk to writer Justin Gray to find out more.

Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us, Justin. What can you tell us about this book

Justin Gray: Psychotic Reaction came about in late 2004 when inker Marc Deering and I were talking about jamming on our own books, low budget, down and dirty genre comics. It was around this time that Marc introduced me to artist Thorsten Ebert. I loved his raw style, the unique perspective and use of shadows in his illustrations. In looking at Thor’s art it was clear to me that we should work on something dark and psychological with a sci-fi bent. At the time I’d been reading an article about Sony filing for a patent for implanting brain chips in people as the next huge step in entertainment. What I struck me as odd about this was the fact that the technology didn’t exist…actually it does and it is still in the primal stages, but to project that far in advance seems a little scary. I told Marc and Thor about the idea and gave them a brief overview of the plot and we went to work from there.

NRAMA: Tell us about the book itself – the who, what, when and why.

JG: In the book, there are a handful of characters that work as both professional gamers and game testers for various companies. They're hired by one of the largest video game companies to beta test their latest and greatest game...Psychotic Reaction. They're an average group of late teens and early twenty-somethings that encounter a new technology disguised as entertainment. These implants are fairly common in the story and have a set of medical and personal rules involved to protect users.

NRAMA: And what are they up against here – mental implants of some kind?

JG: Well, the implants are essentially like having a hard drive installed in your brain, the new body mods in a sense and all the cool kids have them. I find it interesting how quickly we accept technology into our daily lives. If you think about it the public concern for advancing technology is often drowned out by the consumerist machine that drives out economy. This is something of a cautionary tale about blindly accepting that all technology is beneficial to our lives.

NRAMA: Since I've been reading your work, I've known you as quite up on your research. You mentioned how this was originally spurred on by something you read, so what kind of research did you do for this book?

JG: The fun kind, playing video games, reading medical journals, imagining the legal implications of mass-produced implant technology and some good old-fashioned speculation.

NRAMA: The title of this book, Psychotic Reaction, is a bit provoking of a title. How did the title come about?

JG: I’d been working on the story without a clear title; I felt it needed something punchy that would have more than one interpretation. As it happened I was listening to The Count Five song and it just hit me as a great title that worked with what I was doing in the story.

NRAMA: You mentioned how inker Marc Deering put you in touch with Thorsten Ebert, the artist. Can you tell us more about that connecting, and Thorsten's status?

JG: Obviously I want to sell people on the book but I don’t want to make this about me. It is important to explain how important this book is to one person and that person is Thor. I met him online through Marc Deering. Thor lives in Germany so again we see the amazing capability for social networking that the Internet provides. The odds of meeting Thor without the Internet would be incalculable. Anyway, I took one look at Thor’s work and I saw raw genius, a unique eye and sense of cinema that I wanted to jam with.

At the time he was entering university or already a freshman, I can’t remember exactly. He worked on this book in his free time after a full load of classes and a regular job. That is indicative of his drive to succeed and his work ethic is amazing. It took a while to finish the book and initially it was to be broken into two parts, but as it stands now we’re releasing it as a graphic novella. What’s also interesting about Thor’s work on this book is that you can literally see his growth as an artist from beginning to end in this book.

The book was finished just after I signed an exclusive with DC and that put the book on hold. Just last November I pitched DC a painted Batman book with Thor as the artist. The response to his work was overwhelmingly positive and in January of this year things were looking good for the project as Thor and I awaited a response from editorial. Then in April I sent an email to Thor telling him that I hadn’t heard anything on the book yet and that it was still in a holding pattern. It wasn’t that strange that I didn’t hear back from him immediately, I figured he had taken on advertising work.

Then in June, Marc forwarded me an email from another of Thor’s friends saying that he’d been in a coma since March. You can imagine the flood of emotions I felt hearing the news. Thor’s father was unable to access the email account we used to communicate and that’s why I didn’t hear from him. Basically I felt like shit for not emailing him more often. At this point I realized I had to get the book out there for people to see.

This is his only completed and published work to date. I spoke to Marc and said I wanted to put the book out and donate the proceeds to Thor for his medical expenses. From there I contacted Joe Gentile at Moonstone Books and explained the story. Joe was instantly onboard and agreed that once we covered the printing costs that all the money from this book would go to Thor. Now keep in mind that Moonstone is a smaller publisher and they don’t just roll out books for free, they need to turn a profit on these projects, but in this case it really shows what a great guy Joe Gentile is. The next step was to call DC. I asked if I could solicit the book before my contract expired and without hesitation they said yes. So that’s where we are with the book. Neither Marc, myself, or Joe are going to see a dime from the sales of this comic so we need pre orders to be respectable.

NRAMA: Can you tell us about Thorsten's accident and how he's doing now?

JG: Thor was on his way to start a new job as a graphic designer for a video game company when he was involved in a minor accident. When he was out of his car to set up hazard lights a passing truck hit him so there are other physical challenges that he faces on top of the coma. When I last spoke with Thor’s father he said he is making some progress, but the road is a long one toward recovery in both the physical and mental capacity.

NRAMA: You mentioned that a portion of the proceeds go to Thorsten's recovery. Can you tell us more about that?

JG: This book doesn’t exist without Thor’s involvement and it is of paramount importance that, like any young artist, his hard work and love of the medium deserves to be experienced by as many people as possible. Being published in any capacity is a big deal to everyone that dreams of making comics, writing books or any other form of entertainment. We do this so people can share in the experience. I owe it to Thor to make sure this book is printed. That being the case it only seems right that the proceeds of this book go to him and his recovery. It is my hope that he can hold this book in his hands. I know Thor well enough to know that he is a passionate and dedicated person in his artwork and his life. He deserves to see the fruits of his labor. If sales from this book help him reach that point then that is the most important part.

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