Cartoonist Josh Howard has been a fixture on the independent comic scene – and comic conventions – in recent years with a slate of modern stories at various publishers that he both wrote and drew. First bursting on the scene with Dead@17 which continues with new volumes each year, Howard then expanded with several other series including Lost Books of Eve and various other series. One of his more popular series, however, is also one that’s been out of print for years -- Black Harvest. Out of print, that is, until now.
Josh Howard’s Black Harvest returns to print this year from Image Comics. Howard recently joined the ranks of Image for several new series, and this collected edition of Black Harvest marks a strengthening of the relationship between the creator and the publisher. Scheduled for release this month, Black Harvest follows a small town girl who returns to her hometown to uncover a mystery that’s haunted the place for generation. This town, called Jericho, has been the site for a spate of UFO sightings numbering in the hundreds, and when Zaya returns to town she finds things that tell her that it’s more than just superstition.
Originally published as a miniseries by Devil’s Due Publishing, Image’s collected edition of Black Harvest boasts several improvements by the cartoonist – it’s re-lettered, revised and even contains an all-new five page ending. Consider it a “Creator’s Cut” of the original series, giving Howard a chance to put out his own definitive version of the book.
Newsarama: Josh, this book mixes it all – religion, alien conspiracy, and even Internet writers like me. For people that missed out on the series at Devils Due, how would you describe Black Harvest done and collected here at Image?
Josh Howard: I've always loved stories that mix sci-fi and supernatural elements together. That was really the genesis of the concept. As I was building the story, I wanted to take something unexplained from the real world and create a story around it. In Texas we have something called the Marfa lights, so that was really the basis for the Jericho lights. I used the name Jericho for the town because I was inspired by the book of Joshua [from The Bible] and the story of the Ark of the Covenant. The final piece of the puzzle was the short story The Devil and Daniel Webster by Stephen Vincent Benét. All those things went into a blender and came out as Black Harvest.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the key character in this, Daniel Webster?
Howard: Daniel is a guy who runs a mildly successful blog about all things unexplained and supernatural. I would describe him as someone who grew up a nerd and an outcast but found a way to channel that into an advantage with his chosen career path. Because of that, he's kind of got an inflated view of his own minor celebrity status and tries to use it whenever he can to score with the opposite sex. He meets his match with Zaya, who is everything he has pursued personally and professionally all rolled into one.
Nrama: In one of the reviews I've read for this series, one person called Zaya a “complex killing machine”. Tell us more about her.
Howard: Without giving too much away to those who haven't read it, Zaya is really two personalities in one. There's original Zaya, and new "improved" Zaya, and these two aspects are at war with each other over the course of the story. She's the dark, troubled girl we've all known whose sweet and charming one-minute and ready to rip your head of the next.
Nrama: This series originally came out through Devil’s Due but was out of print for a number of years. How’d you connect with Image to get it back in print?
Howard: When I initially brought Dead@17 to them, one of the first things they asked about was Black Harvest, so it was really that simple. It was just a matter of finding the time between other projects to get it put together and release it.
Nrama: Image also tells me you took this opportunity to revise some of the artwork as well as the ending. Can you tell us about that?
Howard: Yeah, this was something I did with Dead@17 as well. I feel it serves two purposes. 1) It gives me the chance to fix, revise, or improve upon things that I didn't like in the first release and 2) it gives some extra value to my fans who buy everything I do. I feel it's important to reward their loyalty by giving them new content.
Specifically, there wasn't as much art that I revised compared to Dead@17. Really only a couple of pages. Story wise I did do a lot of polishing - mostly clarifying some things or improving a bit of dialogue here and there. The big difference is the ending, which is actually the ending I originally wrote but second guessed myself and changed it. I was kind of overwhelmed by how dark the story was and decided to go out on a slightly lighter note. It's kind of an abrupt ending too. So I went back to what I originally wrote, and I think it works better.
Nrama: With this out, the next question will be if you’re collecting the Lost Books of Eve down the road sometime?
Howard: That is definitely the plan. Again, the question is time. Eve will require the most extensive work because I was forced to end it sooner than I originally planned. So when I get to Eve, it will almost be like an all-new book.
Nrama: Back in June you released the conclusion to Dead@17: The Witch Queen, the sixth volume in that long running series. What do you have planned next?
Howard: There is one more volume planned for Dead@17 and that will be the end. I'm writing it right now, so I don't know when it will be released. I'm sure it will be sometime next year. It may be a bit longer than the previous volumes as well. I'm curious to see how it will be received. I'm sure some people will find it a little weird. But it's also very personal and has a lot of meaning behind it. It's got a lot to say - I've been waiting to tell this story for nearly 15 years.
Nrama: You also made a rare appearance drawing someone else’s characters with the one-shot Ghostbusters: Con-Volution. How was that experience for you, and do you plan to do more of that?
Howard: It was a lot of fun. The only downside is that it came to me while I was in the middle of working on Dead@17: The Witch Queen so I really had almost no time to work on it. But I gave it all I had and tried to make the best of it. My number one focus will always be my creator owned work, but if the timing and the project is right, I would always consider doing more, whether it be Ghostbusters or whatever else. My dream project would be to draw a Star Trek book. It almost happened once, but things fell through. But I haven't given up hope!