Welcome back to our special countdown to the Small Press Expo (SPX), where we spotlight many of the new and veteran creators who will be premiering books at the show! Today, we’re taking you to the Inter-Galaxies to battle Galacto-Demons with Blades & Lazers.
Bear with us, folks.
When people talk about the comics of the 1980s, certain books come to mind. It might be a legendary run such as Chris Claremont on Uncanny X-Men or Marv Wolfman and George Perez on New Teen Titans. It might be some blockbuster revisionist work, such as Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns. Or, it might be some groundbreaking independent book, such as Maus or Love and Rockets.
But if you were actually there in the 1980s, or have at least poked through a few quarter bins filled with books from that era, you remember a certain type of comic that was everywhere...cheesy black-and-white books.
You know what we’re talking about – the type printed on grainy newsprint, with Day-Glo-colored covers, handwritten lettering, panel-and-dialogue-packed pages and crazy stories that often had the logic of a fever dream. Also, most were knocking off the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Benjamin Marra has taken it upon himself to pay tribute to those books with TRADITIONAL COMICS (yes, it’s in all caps), a series of black-and-white books such as Night Business, Gangsta Rap Posse and Zorion the Swordlord that feature, and we’re quoting from their website, “stories containing themes consistent with traditional American values such as power, individualism, a personal code of justice, justice, the right to carry a gun, the right to fight, imposing your will upon the world, revenge, lust, sexy, desire, drug use, prostitution and gambling.”
At this point, you’re either still reading this article or you’re not. Here’s their trailer!
Marra’s got a new book for SPX that quite possibly has the best title for a comic book of all time, ever. We’d try to explain it to you, but…we’re not sure we can. Here’s Marra himself to introduce you to his wild world.
Newsarama: All right Benjamin – tell us about what you got for SPX!
Benjamin Marra: I have a comic coming out called Blades & Lazers. It's a part of Ian Harker's Sacred Prism publishing venture. He's publishing a comic every other month from a different artist. He's published comics by Lala Albert, Mare Odomo and Box Brown so far and has many other lined up. Each comic is 16 pages in total and printed on a two-color Risograph.
Nrama: How did you conceive of the title Blades & Lazers? This question comes in large part from my being jealous.
Marra: The title just came to me I guess. That's usually how titles arrive for me. But I do really enjoy naming things. I had this "Las-Slinger" character running around in my head for a while. A tough, rogue, guy-in-a-trench-coat, who you might find in the cantina from Star Wars: Episode IV. I had an adventure story planned for him with this sexy, 80s lady—inspired by Diana from the original V TV show—who could morph into a panther. She would be the femme-fatale villain.
I decided to go with that story when Ian asked me to participate in Sacred Prism. But I wanted to draw some Swords-and-Sorcery stuff, too, so I gave the Las-Slinger a Barbarian brother who doesn't speak. Blades & Lazers seemed to aptly sum up the genres I'm riffing on, Swords-and-Sorcery and Science Fiction. I'm a huge fan of Jack Vance Science Fantasy.
Nrama: Educate us on this fearsome duo, their goals, their minds, their loves, or something.
Marra: V'Larr and V'Ronn Gearson are brothers. V'Larr is a mute Barbarian, 24th-level, Reaper Blade Master. He handles the blades. V'Ronn is a sweet-talking Las-Slinger who won the Galactic Surefirer contest with a zero handicap and zero antigrav. He handles the lazers ... and the business. The business the Gearson brothers are in is the killing of Galacto-Demons, which come in a vast number of varieties.
But the Galacto-Demons reside in a nether dimension of reality, so the Gearsons routinely kidnap Wizards from the many Wizard Cults roaming the cosmos. Upon threat of death, they force the Wizards to summon the Galacto-Demons, who the Gearson's then slay, employing methods involving blades and lazers.
The Galacto-Demon brains and hearts are actually a tremendously desirable resource in the Inter-Galaxies. The Gearsons trade Galacto-Demon brains and hearts for room and board at the bar they live above, The Happy Erb.
One day the Empire shows up and wants to hire the Gearsons for a particularly dangerous mission, because they're the best Galacto-Demon hunters in the Periphery of Planets. And that's when things start to get interesting for the Gearsons.
Nrama: 'an tell us a bit about the two-color process for creating this comic, and why y'all into it.
Marra: The two-color process is a feature of some Risograph machines, which are high-speed copiers basically. They've got a supremely elegant design and can pump out printed pages at a fast clip. They're extremely useful in making short run publications.
Having two-colors is just a nice design aspect. I usually work in black and white, my true love. But it's nice to switch things up a bit with some color. I've wanted to print something on a Risograph for a long time, ever since I've seen the results in other comics printed that way. It has a sort of silkscreen quality to it.
Nrama: Having picked up a ton of your stuff at Heroes Con, I'm most fascinated with your hommages/recreation of the style of those crazy, pulp-y black-and-white indy books of the 1980s and 1990s, where the color covers were bright and occasionally airbrushed, the panels were packed, and ninjas were everywhere. What are some of your favorite of these books, and why did you want to pay tribute?
Marra: Darick Robertson's Space Beaver would be at the top of that list. I think most of my comic books are based on the format of that comic. Darick had an author photo in the back, I believe, so I decided to include an author photo as well in my issues.
I grew up in that era of the Black-and-White Boom. They were part my introduction to comics. I loved the original Eastman & Laird Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and all the knockoffs, too, like Adolescent Black Belt Radioactive Hamsters. I collected Hamster Vice, Boris the Bear, Samurai Penguin, etc.
Recently, the books that have been a direct influence are the efforts of the brothers Vigil, Tim and Joe, as well as early Ron Lim work. I really love Ron's work on the Ex-Mutants and Hero Alliance. I've been collecting Tim Vigil and David Quinn's Faust for several years now. I'm blown away by Time and Joe Vigil's Gunfighters in Hell series. Joe Vigil's series Dog is one of the best comics I've ever read.
Nrama: Have you plans for more epic adventures of Galacto-Demon slayin' with the Gearson boys?
Marra: Yes, there are countless tales to tell. But, unfortunately, I have no plans as of yet to put them down on paper or publish them. I'd love to have the opportunity to, but my schedule will dictate what I can do with them and when.
Nrama: As I am on a mission to force everyone I know to watch Miami Connection, and that flick would appear to be your bag, I must ask if you have experienced the wonders of Dragon Sound and their musical quest against the ninja to rid Central Florida of stupid cocaine.
Marra: I agree with and fully support your mission. I have seen Miami Connection a few times now, and it is a flawless film. Dragon Sound is the best band in the history. I was considering getting the chorus to the song "Friends" tattooed somewhere on my body. I highly recommend Samurai Cop and Deadly Prey as kindred-spirit films of Miami Connection.
Nrama: What are some of the biggest challenges in putting all these crazy books together yourself, and really doin' something different here?
Marra: Well, fortunately Ian is handling the publishing logistics on Blades & Lazers, while I just had to write, draw and color the book. But with the rest of the books that I've put out myself through TRADITIONAL COMICS the biggest challenge is always time.
I think Jack Kirby said on a panel in San Diego many years ago that time is the great enemy of the comic book artist. It might be the great enemy of everyone. Finding enough time to do all the things I want to do creatively is difficult. But maybe the answer is patience. I'll never get to tell all the stories I have to tell. So it's a matter of patiently going through the process of completing as many things as I can.
Nrama: And have you been to SPX before – and if so, what's fun about a show like this?
Marra: I have been to SPX four out of the last five years. This will be my fourth in a row. For me the most fun parts of SPX are twofold.
First, it's great to see if I can find new work that I could never find anywhere else. I think that might be my favorite part: to sift through all the material to find gems of books I would never find otherwise.
Secondly, it's great to visit with friends I never see outside of events like this. Additionally, it's a chance to meet new people or creators I admire but haven't interacted with yet. Also, it's not at every show you get to access living legends like Gary Panter.
Nrama: What are some books/creators you're looking forward to seeing at SPX?
Marra: For me, what I look forward to at SPX really begins and ends with Brad Gottschalk, although I'm not sure if he's attending this year. I discovered his work a couple of years ago. His comics melt my mind. I've only seen his work at SPX. It's devastatingly haunting stuff. To me his books are incredibly pure, very intense, deeply personal comics. I encourage everyone to check out his stuff. Here's his website.
It's that kind of experience of discovery that makes SPX so enjoyable. I'm sure there will be plenty of other creators I'll discover this time around. I'm looking forward to seeing what I don't have from Picturebox. I'm also a fan of the EC creator series of books Fantagraphics has been producing. I hope they have the Al Feldstein book for SPX. I also want to get my hands on the Graham Ingels and Jack Kamen books.
Nrama: What's next for you? More blades, more lazers, what?
Marra: I'm currently hard at work on a few projects. I'm working with Josh Bayer and his brother Sam on a new line of superhero comics called All Time Comics. Be on the look out for those soon. Recently, I wrote a comic that Michael DeForge is drawing and Dash Shaw will be coloring. It's a sequel to Michael's and my story that appeared in an issue of Smoke Signal, a cyber/bio-punk tale called Faunamancer. Desert Island Comics is going to put that out.
I'm also working on an original animation project with a Brooklyn advertising agency. I have a few of illustration projects and gallery pieces to complete in the short term. Then I have my own graphic novel I'm working on. I'd love to do more Blades & Lazers comics. I'd also love to do more Zorion the Swordlord stories. I have a lot of ideas I'd love to work on and turn into books.
I have a half-dozen ideas for graphic novels I plan to create. I think I'll focus on those once this slate of current projects clears. One thing I plan to finish soon is my main TRADITIONAL COMICS title, Night Business.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Marra: I think we pretty well covered everything. I hope everyone who can get to SPX will go. It's one of the best shows out there and not to be missed. Anyone who is interested can check out my work at benjaminmarra.com and traditionalcomics.com.
NEXT: Take an autobiographical journey to make appetizers for apes in Monkey Chef! Then, it’s samurai vengeance with Black Sheep, followed by a look at the strange-but-true story of Georg Wilhelm Steller in Wild Man: Island of Memory!
And if you have a book premiering at SPX or know something you’d like to see highlighted – let us know in the comments and we might try to include it in this series!