Many of you may not be familiar with the name Caleb Monroe. He’s been making waves in the indie end of the comic industry pool for several years now; he has had stories published in anthologies like Negative Burn and Parable. Last year, Monroe worked with Boom! and Stephen Baldwin to produce the series, The Remnant. This year has been just as auspicious for Monroe with his short, MIMETIC/KINETIC, published in the back of Hack/Slash #23 from Devil’s Due and the release of Hunter’s Fortune, this week, from BOOM! Studios.
Newsarama contacted Monroe to discuss his work on Hunter’s Fortune, the latest action-adventure offering from BOOM! Studios.Newsarama: Caleb, give Newsarama readers some background on Hunter’s Fortune; how did you become involved with this project?
Caleb Monroe: I think the short answer is probably THE REMNANT, the mini-series I did for BOOM! with Stephen Baldwin and Andrew Cosby that came out in early 2009. They liked the work I did on that series and when Hunter’s Fortune came across (managing editor) Matt Gagnon’s desk, he contacted me and told me he had a new project that he thought would be right up my alley.
And he was right!Nrama: What can you tell readers about some of the back-story preceding the first issue of Hunter’s Fortune? What kind of character is Hunter Prescott? Who else will figure prominently in the book?
Monroe: At its core, Hunter’s Fortune is about stepping up to the plate.
Hunter is a complete slacker. Not necessarily from lack of character (though slackerhood certainly atrophies character), but from lack of self-confidence. He doesn’t see himself as the competent person he is, so when he comes against tough decisions (go to school or not, look for a job or not) he tends to opt for the path that won’t test his mettle. So he’s never really amounted to much. But he’s ultimately dissatisfied because he’s unhappy not amounting to anything, yet doesn’t see himself as capable of more.
That’s our starting point. Hunter’s uncle Max dies and leaves him a beyond-wildest-dreams fortune, but to keep it he must complete the nigh-impossible task of finding a possibly mythical sword. For once the stakes are simply too high for Hunter not to try, so whether he’s ready or not he’s going to find out what he’s made of.
The rest of the major cast are: Trip, Hunter’s best friend and co-slacker. Jessica, Uncle Max’s former assistant and executor of the will. Amber, the girl who makes “bookworm” an extreme compliment. And Miranda, Max’s slighted former daughter-in-law.
Nrama: What is the big draw for you personally when you're writing a modern action/adventure book like this?
Monroe: I think the big draw is that a good action/adventure story defies terms like “modern” because it’s timeless. The adventure/quest genre has remained pretty much unchanged since the Epic of Gilgamesh and Jason and the Argonauts. The quest for something invaluable which others have tried for and failed, the questing companions as foils for the hero, evil consequences for those who quest solely out of greed.
But what makes it so primal and timeless is that it’s really a self-discovery story. In the process of questing, the hero discovers the truth about himself and realizes that discovery is even more valuable that the original object of the quest. We all want to be more valuable than even the most priceless earthly treasure, to be a treasure beyond treasure. And a good adventure story reminds us that we are.
Eternal aspects of the genre aside, a truly good adventure story will always find its own new and interesting angles. I did a lot of research for this book to find all sorts of real and really strange pieces of history to weave into the tale. I think even long-time fans of Arthurian lore will find many of the clues and historical bits we integrated new to them.
Nrama: How does your collaboration work with Andrew Cosby work when you're scripting?Monroe: Like any good collaboration, it can’t be precisely delineated! But in general it’s a “story by/script by” situation. This book began as an idea of Andy’s, which he developed into a rather detailed treatment. He’s particularly gifted at finding the hook, the high concept. It literally took my editor a single descriptive sentence to get me totally onboard.
Then I began from there. I loved the characters and started pouring bits of myself into them, what I call “sides of self”. I think every authentic character will display some side, no matter how small or dormant, of the author’s own person, which is what gives them their own personhood in that two-dimensional universe on the page. I had a blank check to just go wild digging through history and establishing the clues/obstacles and the structure of the quest itself.
Then in the scripting stage I take the characters, the story and the plot and try to synthesize them into a cohesive whole through action and dialogue. To make each of these characters a real person who, when in these circumstances and when interacting with these other characters, would actually do and say the things that would lead to this series of events. And of course there is back-and-forth with Andy and with super editor Bryce Carlson throughout. It’s collaboration in the best sense, in that we’re creating something I think is better than any one of us could create alone.
Nrama: How is Hunter's Fortune a departure from your previous projects with Boom!?Monroe: It feels a lot more personal. THE REMNANT was my first comics work longer than 22 pages. So I was using certain writing muscles for the first time, and as my first work of any real industry note, there was also the pressure of performing, of taking the opportunity given to me and capitalizing on it.
This time around, I didn’t feel any of that same pressure. THE REMNANT experience is still a fresh one, so I could tell myself, “You can do this! In fact, you just did and it worked out well.” So I uncoiled a good deal and I think you’ll be able to see it in the story. There’s more of a looseness, a relaxedness.
And my own, ever-evolving style has gone through some big changes in the course of this project. New ways of scripting, of pacing, of cutting between scenes. I feel like I’ve made a big step out from under the shadow of many of the comics writers that have influenced me and taken more of a personal ownership of the book’s style and choices.
Nrama: Will there be a lot of Arthurian legend in this story? Searching for Excalibur is a pretty crazy endeavor...Monroe: Yes. I did a lot of research and everything I’ve put in comes from something real in history or in the Arthurian legends. That still leaves plenty of room to make leaps of logic and of story, but like I said above, I think readers will find some interesting things tied to the legend of Excalibur they haven’t seen there before. I don’t want to give too much away, but in addition to England our characters will have to follow clues through both Italy and Tibet!
In the course of my research, I reached my own conclusions as to where Arthur’s final battle occurred and where legendary sites like Avalon and the Lady in the Lake were located. Then I put it all into the comic.
Nrama: Are there any genres that you're intimidated by as a newer voice in the industry? What sort of project would be a "dream project" for you?
Monroe: I don’t really feel intimidated per se by any particular genre, but I think a straight-up romance or straight-up cop story might feel the most unnatural at first until I found a way to really sink into them. But I’ll take all comers! Experience has taught me you grow more as a writer by trying new or uncomfortable things than in staying in your comfort zone.
I have a number of dream projects, and what makes them that is they’re my own creator-owned stuff. I have a lot of stories I think only I can tell, and I’m hoping there’s a small contingent of readers out there who connect to what I do—enough that I can support myself and my wife at it without the five part-time jobs I have now. That’s the dream.
Nrama: Can you tell readers about any other upcoming projects you may be working on in the near future?
Monroe: I did a 2-page creator-owned story called MIMETIC KINETIC that ran in the back of HACK/SLASH #23, and I’m talking to a publisher right now about expanding it into a graphic novella. Other than that, I’m working with a number of artists on some creator-owned pitches which I’m hoping to find a home for soon. I’m also looking at the possibility of assembling my shorter works (there’s over 200 pages of them) into an anthology. I don’t want to do it with the normal direct market business model, though, so I’m giving a lot of thought to what business model I do want to use.
Nrama: Looking to the future, what sorts of innovations do you think the comic book industry will see in the upcoming decade?Monroe: I don’t know what the innovations will be, exactly (don’t think anyone does), but I think it’s a very exciting time to be in comics because there’s no doubt they’re coming. With recent changes in the digital landscape and the direct market, I think we’re entering a phase where the “old” way of doing things is steadily dropping away. I put “old” in quotation marks because the current established system is only about 30-40 years old as it is.
When people talk about the revolution caused by the printing press, they tend to gloss over the 400 years or so where people were still trying to figure out exactly what the heck to do with this new technology. A new technology doesn’t automatically come with new ways of thinking. The first printing presses were still looked at through eyes and minds that thought in terms of handwritten books. It took a long period of trial and error and a little bit of chaos before the best practices in new thinking and new business models were established.
I think comics, and indeed all media, are entering a similar time of tumult, though everything now moves at a much faster pace. What once took 400 years might now take 25 or 10 or 4. POD, digital distribution, instant personal connection and pushback with fans and peers through social networking, personalized storefronts and personally curated libraries and artifacts. Like Warren Ellis said in a Bad Signal just a couple days ago, it “feel[s] a bit more like the wild frontier than it has in a while.”
At the speed technology is developing, we may have turned a corner of a sort in that the “best practices” and business models may never settle, they may be in a constant state of evolution, as varied and ever-changing as the technologies themselves and it will be up to individual creators to find their zone, what works for them and them alone.
Nrama: You've learned a lot since you've began your career in the industry; what sorts of advice would you give to writers interested in pursuing a job in the comic book industry?Monroe: 1) Make friends with as many other comics people as you can. Both creators and fans. Online, face-to-face at conventions, both if possible.
2) Make something people can actually read. A traditional comic, a mini-comic, a digital comic, a graphic novel. Then keep doing it all over again.
3) Make sure all the friends you make in 1) read what you’ve created in 2). Lather, rinse, repeat.
Eventually one of those people will be in a position to help you and, being familiar with your work, will give you an opportunity. It’s a pretty small industry. This year’s intern could be head editor in two years. It happens all the time. So don’t discriminate, make friends with everyone, and do your best to help others in their own careers whenever possible. People remember a kind act.
When the door’s opened for you, jump through it. Finish what you commit to do when you commit to do it and make the publisher’s job as easy as you can. People remember an unprofessional act.
It’s a simple process to outline, but only becomes effective with months and years of time and energy spent applying it.
Nrama: Caleb, to close up shop, give readers the best reason you can think of to try Hunter's Fortune this week when it hits shelves.
Monroe: Because even if someone I’d never heard of wrote this book, I’d still want to read it. It has an extremely fun premise and is simply beautiful to behold: Matt Cossin is just killing it on the art. When you’re in your comic shop this week, pick it up and read the first few pages. I bet you’ll be hooked!