It's becoming rare for busy superhero comic writers to have time for an original graphic novel. But Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti are proving there's always time if you make it by releasing two OGNs this summer.

"We've been working on these books for a long time," said Gray, who has been collaborating with Palmiotti as his co-writer for 10 years now. "And they're completely different genres from each other. Jimmy and I really just like to mix it up and try different things."

The pair just recently released The Tattered Man, an OGN from Image Comics, and will be part of the DC Comics relaunch with their All-Star Western title featuring Jonah Hex.



Both of their new, upcoming OGNs mesh two genres into one. Trailblazer, which comes out July 6th from Image Comics, is a sci-fi Western. Then in August, Booksmart from Kickstart Comics, is an action-romance.

"We're stepping into a different set of genres and rules of storytelling," Gray said. "With Trailblazer, we took a set of ideas that just combined to make something unique. And with Booksmart, we wanted to do something in a completely different genre than we've done before."

Trailblazer is based on the premise of a witness protection program that uses time travel. When a former assassin decides to provide evidence to convict his enemies, the government ends up protecting his life by sending him to the Old West.



"We had the idea of a witness protection being sent back in time, and we just kept brainstorming and brainstorming with ideas and taking the story in different directions," Gray said. "Finally we came up with the concept of making this a sci-fi Western, and the title Trailblazer came from that, and it all seemed to work."

Palmiotti and Gray happened upon another unique approach to time travel because their main character is considered a villain in the present, but is seen as heroic in the past.

"What we wanted to do with Jacob was examine how people in different times perceive people in different ways," Gray said. "It's like how people think they were born in the wrong time. And we explore how someone who would be considered a criminal in the present would be a hero in the past, with the same skill set, because society looked at them differently. We thought that was an interesting way to look at a character dynamic.



When Jacob's occupation as an assassin threatens the life of someone he cares about -- a nun at the orphanage where he was raised -- he only has one choice. He turns against his employers, which causes him to be put into the witness relocation program.

"He tells the government, 'You have no idea! If these people want to find me, they can find me!' But of course, he doesn't know that they have time travel, and ends up in a completely different era," Gray said. "And he falls easily into this alien world of the past. For most people, it would be a difficult transition. But for him, he's suddenly seen in a completely different light than he is in the present. He finds happiness in that, in the ability to be away from the world he was born into."

Of course, not every problem disappears from his life. "A man like this always has problems," Gray said. "We wanted to set up a premise where you can't really escape your fate no matter what technology you have or what possesses you to do something. Even if you can go back in time, problems are going to pop up, and sometimes they're the exact same problems."

Trailblazer features art by Jim Daly III, with Paul Mounts on colors. "Jim gives it a real authentic feel. It's a little bit stylized, but still realistic," Gray said. "But it's got a fun feel to it as well. And of course, Paul just delivers so much in the coloring. They do a great job together. "


With Booksmart, Palmiotti and Gray try their hand at romance, although with these two at the helm, readers can expect plenty of twists.

"It's probably the most romantic thing we've done since 21 Down. Of course, we have a skewed sense of romance, so you're going to get a lot of action, adventure and gunplay," Gray said. "And smart-ass characters."

Booksmart focuses on a woman who wakes up in Tibet and has no idea who she is. "But with all the people who are chasing her, she's pretty sure she's some kind of spy," Gray said.

At the core of the story is what Gray calls a "boy-meets-girl story."

"But because this girl has no idea who she is, she can't really fall in love with him because she's got a nagging feeling in the back of her head that she already has a boyfriend or husband," the writer said. "It generates this great sexual tension and emotional relationship tension between the two of them while all kinds of people are trying to kill them at the same time."



Because the OGN is set in Tibet, the settings -- drawn by artist Juan Santacruz -- are rich with exotic visuals as the characters are chased throughout Tibet.

"The way he drew and colored it, the book is really gorgeous," Gray said. "It's kind of a wash, but with really rich colors. It's got a completely unique look and feel to it.

"When we did Resistance with Juan, he was trying to come up with little science fiction stuff in the art," Gray said. "But because this is based in reality, it's got a little twinge of hyper-reality in the artwork itself. It really lends itself to the fact that the main character has no idea who she is and is constantly running from one group to the other, from Katmandu into the Himalayas."



And according to Gray, readers can expect even more from the pair in the coming months. "Jimmy and I are always coming up with new concepts," Gray said. "We've been tossing around ideas ever since we first started writing together, and that's been 10 years. It works really well, because we're so familiar with each other that we don't have any problem proposing new ideas to each other, or even shooting each other’s ideas down, as long as we can back it up with the reasons why. We've been able to work together like that for a long time."

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