For fifteen years, Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder series has been a stalwart part of the independent comics scene. Described by the author as “aboriginal science fiction”, Finder has garnered the artist seven Eisner nominations with a win in 2009 for “Best Webcomic”. In those fifteen years McNeil has published the serialized story and collections through her own Lightspeed Press company, but in 2011 has decided to hitch her wagon to a new horse: Dark Horse.
This month, Dark Horse brings Finder into its stable of creator-owned titles with the publishing of an all-new graphic novel called Finder: Voice. Weeks later, Dark Horse releases the first of two books called The Finder Library which collects the previous story-arcs that McNeil self-published. Finder has settled in with Dark Horse as the defacto flagship of Dark Horse’s new line, Dark Horse Originals, and continues the publisher’s long history of creator-owned work going back to Sin City, Hellboy and The Umbrella Academy. And Finder isn’t just joining the fold, but joining the family – an all-new Finder strip will be serialized in the new Dark Horse Presents series, sharing space in the first issue with Frank Miller’s sequel to 300.
It’s been a long journey for McNeil and her enigmatic hero of Finder, Jaeger, through street-level culture wars, lofty sf and fantasy elements and the vagaries of independent comic publishing. With the cartoonist now having more time to focus on comics and less on the business side, you’ll find she’s hard at work.
Newsarama: Let’s start with an easy one first, Carla – what are you working on today?
Carla Speed McNeil: Today-- the under-drawing for the second Finder Library, which will collect previous graphic novels Dream Sequence, Mystery Date, The Rescuers and Five Crazy Women.
I'll probably do some work on the script for the second Dark Horse Presents piece, part two of a Jaeger story titled “Third World”. I'm also juggling work on a book for DC Vertigo called Bad Houses. And because all the way back to grade school, I've always done my best work on whatever I'm NOT supposed to be working on, I'm gonna jot down some ideas I'm having on two other stories, Oneiradora and Hum.
Nrama: That’s a lot!
Dark Horse seems really enthusiastic to have you – when I talked to Mike Richardson earlier this year about the return of Dark Horse Presents he was very high on the work you’re doing in that book. At the beginning of this interview you said the story serialized in DHP is called “Third World”, but what’s it about?
McNeil: The usual main character and eponymous Finder, Jaeger, gets tired of thugging for street-level crime bosses, and gets a job as a courier. So now he's Ninja McFedEx. This job will take him all over the city and out of it, showing him and the readers sides of the city and of himself they've never seen. It will be colored by Jenn Manley Lee (dicebox.net) and Bill Mudron (excelsiorstudios.net), both of whom do amazing work of their own.
Nrama: For a lot of people these DH releases are going to be their first taste of the series, so let me ask – just what exactly is a Finder?
McNeil: A Finder is a scout. A scout is a tracker, a detective, a ninja and a Navy S.E.A.L. rolled into one. At least, a good one is. For the Ascians, the nomadic people who produce finders, it's next door to a religion. A finder is supposed to know everything about the territory in which he lives, or find out everything about a place he moves into.
Nrama: Working on this series for so long, has your idea about what the series about changed from 1995 to now?
The basic themes? No. I'm still fascinated by the same things I've been into since I was a kid. No matter how weird a way of life seems, to somebody it is completely ordinary. New ideas are everywhere, and only a few change the world. Cultural pressures. And so on.
The story, yes. I've gone about this in a peculiar way. Usually a writer presents the big, earth-shattering backstory first, and then does smaller, more personal stories concerning favorite characters later. I've been doing smaller, character-driven stories for years, and am only now gearing up to do the story that will affect everybody in my world.
Nrama: Some comic creators have a hard time looking at their older work – but I’ve always noticed you have a healthy respect for what you’ve done before. What’s it like to be able to have most of your body of work in print
McNeil; I try to think of it as having been done by an evil twin.
That way I can draw on it, play with the ideas, and not have to worry about all its many shortcomings and flaws. I can comfortably plagiarize the work of my evil twin with few fears of being taken to court.
Nrama: After years of self-publishing Finder you’re bringing it into the fold to Dark Horse Comics. Just how did this partnership come about for you?
McNeil: I was at Stumptown Comics Fest, conducting a panel, and someone in the audience asked me if I was opposed to the idea of working with a publisher. I said I wasn't, that I had never been approached by publishers. A Dark Horse editor by the name of Katie Moody was in the audience, and she caught me after the panel.
My agent and I looked at a lot of possibilities that year, and I finally settled on Dark Horse. So the dark horse in this case was the first one out of the gate.
Nrama: And although you’ve got a new publisher, you’re continuing to serialize new stories online – where Voice first showed up. What’s coming?
McNeil: The next book, Torch, began on-line at www.lightspeedpress.com. The great folks at DH created a new Finder website, with a lot of cool new stuff, including a cross-section of the domed city in which a lot of the Finder stories take place. That new site will link to my sketchblog and to new pages of the webcomic as things progress. Torch will be next year's book. It will probably undergo quite a bit of surgery before being presented in its final dead-tree edition.
Nrama: One of the great things about Dark Horse picking up Finder is that you have a wealth of material for them to put out. What do you estimate the release schedule for volumes will be?
McNeil: The first Library is, I think, out this month, February '11. The first wholly new book, Voice, is due out in March, and the second Library in the fall, Septemberish.