J. Michael Straczynski has obviously found a sweet spot at Image, as his surprisingly prolific output through his "Joe's Comics" imprint grows even bigger with next week's introduction of The Adventures of Apocalypse Al.
Although the title is based in a post-apocalyptic world — with plenty of deadly zombies and other creatures — Straczynski is taking an upbeat, adventurous and humor-filled approach, comparing the comic to Ghostbusters or Men in Black.
While that might not sound like the type of work readers are used to seeing from Straczynski when he's writing for DC and Marvel, the writer says that's the whole point of Joe's Comics — to release the comics he could "never do for a mainstream publisher."
Apocalypse Al, which features art by Sid Kotian, is the story of Allison Carter, a resourceful private eye who's trying to save the world from a slew of supernatural threats — zombies, imps, wizards, trolls and an undead ex-boyfriend.
While the story is told over four issues, each chapter is over-sized (with #1 featuring 30 pages), and they'll feature covers from artists like Francesco Francavilla and John Romita Jr.
Newsarama talked to JMS about the comic and the future of Joe's Comics — and we got an exclusive look at some of the character sketches from the comic.
Newsarama: Joe, stories based in a post-apocalyptic setting are usually, at their core, stories of "survival." But this feels like something really different. How would you describe the theme, genre, and tone of this comic?
J. Michael Straczynski: If you look at the apocalyptic fiction, TV and movies of the last 10 years or so, it's very, deadly earnest and serious. I love that stuff, but by the same token, there's something to be said for taking the mickey out of that genre a bit, and having fun with it. Which is why I loved Ghostbusters and Men in Black: world's going to end, so let's go for broke. We haven't had a lot of that more lighthearted approach to The End Of All Things, so for me, that was a big draw. The tone is fun, adventurous...the action pretty much never stops for all four issues.
Nrama: OK, so with that goal in mind, what inspired the premise and plot of Apocalypse Al?
Straczynski: For me, everything starts with character, and I've always loved really strong, sharp, independent female characters. Ripley in Aliens, Sarah Connor in T2. The take-no-prisoner heroines in 40s noir detective films. Ivanova and Delenn in Babylon 5. Characters who are proud to say exactly the wrong thing at exactly the right moment. So that was the first step. I've also always wanted to write an action/adventure romp kind of story, a la Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the two fit together really well.
Nrama: At first glance, the name "Al" would seem to be a man, but it's surprisingly not. Where did the idea for Al and her personality come from?
Straczynski: As someone who was a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the series, not the first movie), I have a soft spot in my heart (also my head) for a strong woman standing against the forces of darkness. There's no lineage between them, however. If anything, there's something of Wile E. Coyote to her: constantly on a slow frustration-burn as she's face with one massively dangerous or simply ridiculous threat after another.
I chose Al for her name because her parents had been expecting a son, as the men in her family had been fighting the war against The End Of The World for generations. But they only had one child, a girl. So Allison...but to them, and to her friends, it's Al.
Nrama: How does this work compare/contrast with what we've seen from you before? Did you tread any familiar ground, or challenge yourself with new pathways on this project?
Straczynski: I always like to push the work in fresh directions. Most of the Joe's Comics titles to this point have been dark and dangerous (Ten Grand, Sidekick). I went with Ten Grand even though I'm not known for writing horror fiction, even though my first substantial work in fiction comprised several published horror novels, and the reception to that has been terrific. So with this book, I wanted to go in the opposite direction, toward something light and funny. I haven't had much chance to write in that vein, especially inside a supernatural arena, since The Real Ghostbusters, so it was an awful lot of fun to go back to that voice. (Consequently, if you're someone who grew up on TRGBs, this is definitely the book for you.)
Nrama: What does the artist bring to the tone and style of the comic?
Straczynski: For this book to work, it needed a style that was realistic in the sense of being able to see the emotions of the characters, but also stylized, fun and energetic. Humor rendered dark or too serious in the art often doesn't work. It needed a light, expressive, accessible style, and Sid Kotian has brought that with a vengeance. Pull out the word balloons and it's just fun to look at. There's a panel in issue three where Al's in a big theme park pistol-whipping a demon-possessed character dressed in a franchised cartoon dog costume that makes me laugh every time I see it. His style is fun and accessible and warm and full of character.
Nrama: You mentioned some of the other comics you've done for the Joe's Comics line. How would you describe your motivation for releasing Apocalypse Al as a title from the Joe's Comics imprint?
Straczynski: For me, the appeal of doing the Joe's Comics line is to do stuff that I think would be entertaining, stuff that I almost certainly could never do for a mainstream publisher. Sometimes, as with Ten Grand, it's a 12-issue maxi-series, and sometimes it's an original graphic novel, and sometimes it's a four-issue treat, as with this book (though we're certain to return to this universe later).
I like to switch things up from time to time. It also gives us the flexibility to present the story the way we think it should be presented. Meaning: at a time when most comics companies are cutting back to 20-page books or barely holding on at 22, these issues are extra-large, 30 pages give or take of actual story per issue, without being interrupted by ads, which would especially kill the flow of a funny story. And we can control the price point, so readers are getting 106 pages of story for the price of 4 normal issues. It's our way of saying thanks to the folks who have been so supportive of the Joe's Comics launch.
Nrama: What's the timing of other stories being released by you through Joe's Comics? Do you have a certain approach you're taking to what projects you're utilizing for it?
Straczynski: We're trying to time things out in progressive waves, so one title ends about the time the next one starts. So Ten Grand ends about the same time Dream Police starts.
I'd like us to continue to have a steady presence of at least two titles per month.
Nrama: Wait… aren't you way over that right now?
Straczynski: There's a weird scheduling thing where February-April I have six titles per month coming out — Ten Grand, Apocalypse Al, Sidekick, Protectors, Twilight Zone and Terminator — but once Al, TG and Sidekick finish up, that will recede to an acceptable volume level as Dream Police and our relaunch of The Book of Lost Souls glide in to pick up the slack.
Nrama: It sounds like quite a busy schedule of books coming out from the imprint. To finish up, is there anything you want to tell folks about The Adventures of Apocalypse Al and Joe's Comics?
Straczynski: Just that for the folks who have been kind of watching the growth of Joe's Comics and have been curious to check it out but haven't, this is a great chance to jump on board with a four-issue run that gives a real sense of the flavor of what we're doing. They're not signing on for a whole year — our last two issues both come out in April — and we feel that the quality of this book stands on its own. If you like this, then you might want to check out the other titles, especially as Dream Police starts in April, also drawn by Sid Kotian and colored by Bill Farmer.
Come on in, the water's fine.