WEDNESDAY COMICS Thursday #5: KERSCHL & the FLASH

WEDNESDAY COMICS Thursday: KARL KERSCHL

Welcome back to our weekly miniseries covering DC Comics’ broadsheet Wednesday Comics. Our musings on the first five issues can be found here, and this week, we continue our series of interviews with the creators behind the project.

Karl Kerschl, artist and co-writer of the outstanding Flash strip, was generous enough to chat with us from his studio in Toronto on his aims for the project, why he split his page in two, and what’s coming up next.

Newsarama: One of the most-asked questions we’ve received is about your formatting of the Flash strip. Every other creative team has been doing big splash pages, and you and [co-writer] Brenden Fletcher chose to break yours into two distinct comics, one for the Flash and one for Iris West. Was that done in homage to old “soap opera” strips like Mary Worth, or for other reasons?

Karl Kerschl: That’s been the biggest question I’ve been asked too, and I haven’t had a chance to answer it yet because all the interviews we did came out before the books started to ship!

When I learned about the project, the most important aspect of it seemed to be the format. Wednesday Comics is very clearly an homage to the large format Sunday strips and it wears that proudly on its sleeve. So, first and foremost, I wanted to use that format as a touchstone - to craft a story that's both modern and retro. My original pitch to Mark was pretty straightforward: Barry Allen’s wife leaves him and he has to go back in time to prevent it from happening. I wanted to do an adventure story and a romance story at the same time and design it in a way that evoked the feeling of those old newspapers.

Initially, we tried to shoehorn all of those elements into one giant page per week, but it made the story feel very one-sided - Flash's motives were very clear, but Iris became a two-dimensional character and we wanted to focus on them both as real, well-rounded people. It was Brenden’s idea to divide it into two strips, which was a nice wink to the Sunday Page format. The conceit is that you're jumping into a serialized strip that's been going on for years and will continue long after the twelve issues are over. We wanted it to be clear from a glance that there are two sides to this story and that the tone of each strip is very different.

NRAMA: So, were you a fan of the old Sunday newspaper strips?

Kerschl: Well, when I was younger, I'd read the [Toronto] Star at my grandparents’ house, and I would skim over Mary Worth and the old Spider-Man and Superman comics. The thing that I remember most about them is that they felt like tiny moments of a bigger story. They tried to tell as much story as they could on every page, but you could also pick them up randomly and not feel like you missed too much. It's a juggling act to cram as much information in the word balloons and the panels as possible while still creating a strip that flows organically. It's been a major challenge for us.

But, no, I wouldn’t say I was a fan per se. I was familiar enough with them and we did a lot of research in preparation for The Flash. Mark sent all of the artists and writers scans and samples of the old Prince Valiant strips as an example of what the Wednesday Comics project should feel like. Later in the story there are even more callbacks to classic newspaper strips. I don't think the story we're telling would make sense in any other format, and that was our goal in crafting it.

NRAMA: What was the appeal of working on a project such as this, then?

Kerschl: Well, I’m a fan of Mark and his artwork — I used to have pictures of paintings he had done pinned up over my drawing desk. So to be asked by him to do anything, was very flattering. That was the main thing. I also thought his other projects — Solo and Batman Black and White were wonderful showcases of talent and really innovative. It was very difficult to say no to, even though I was very busy with other projects. [Kershl is a contributor to Toronto webcomics site Transmission X (www.txcomics.com) and is working on a miniseries for WildStorm.]

This is also my first professional writing/co-writing experience, and it's been a bit of a dream come true to co-write with Brenden. We’ve been writing stuff together since we were kids, and it’s amazing to work together on something like this. We were essentially given carte blanche. Whatever we wanted to do with the Flash. It’s also been fun to play with all of these quantum physics concepts. I hope people stick around, because things are going to get really time travel crazy in the next few issues!

NRAMA: How do you think the project has come together so far?

Kerschl: Well, I picked up the first issue, and I was overjoyed. The paper was a big factor in how we designed the page. Newsprint does make full process colour look different, but because we're also playing with a lot of retro themes we had to ask ourselves some questions about how we were going to pull it off. For example, how “aged” do we make the colors look?  We’re also using a halftone pattern for the Iris strip, and if this had been printed on glossy stock, we probably would have used more, or at least different, effects to make that strip look visually unique.

We really wanted to differentiate the two strips immediately. Part of that is accomplished by drawing the strips in subtly different styles - more dramatic lighting in the soap opera and more dynamic artwork in the adventure strip. But if that had failed, then at least people would be able to see at a glance, through Dave's colour choices, that there are two different comics on the page. Actually, as the book goes on, you’ll see some of those colour gimmicks fragment and merge as the two strips become one. Honestly, I would have been disappointed if it had been on modern, slick paper. I think a lot of art looks better on old newsprint. The colors bleed a little bit, and I kind of like the feel and the smell of it. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but sometimes I think when old comics are reprinted on glossy stock they lose a lot of their lustre.

NRAMA: Are you surprised at the response to the strip?

Kerschl: I’m very surprised. And a bit relieved! Most of the media coverage of Wednesday Comics has focused on the big names - Gaiman, Pope, etc - so I’m always surprised to see glowing reviews for our story because I'm not a big name in comics and the Flash strip, on its surface, is a very unassuming strip. Most of the artists in this book are doing very beautiful, lush artwork - taking advantage of the page as a giant canvas - and I've been very restrained with my page layouts in service of the story we're trying to tell and the mood we want to evoke. I assumed we'd kind of fly under the radar.  So yeah, I’m thrilled.

We’ve been very conscious of packing a ton of content into the panels, and of crafting something that can work both as a 12-page story and as a single page story each week. Juggling those two concepts has been incredibly challenging. If this was any other project, we would be taking a lot of time with each moment, letting each panel breathe, but we don’t have that luxury here. The format dictates the content, and we have to rely on exposition, big jumps in time, and thought balloons — all the things guys had to do when they were creating those old Sunday strips years ago. I have a whole new appreciation for the condensed story now. It’s also probably making me a better storyteller.

Because Jamie is on soccer duty (the USA played Mexico in a World Cup qualifier on ship day, showing blatant disregard for comic book fans), capsule reviews and the Geek Notes will return next week!

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