First off, before we begin the fun. I'd like to introduce Neil Patel from Danger Writes. He'll be primarily handling interviews here at IndieComiX, so please give him a warm welcome and enjoy his first interview! Its certainly starting off his time here with a bang!
Interview by: Neil Patel
Angelo, the writer of No Place Like Home.
Frank L. Baum’s Oz books have been an inspiration to many writers in comics. Various incarnations of the Wicked Witch and Dorothy have popped up in Fables, Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, and without mentioning Eric Shanower’s and Scottie Young’s The Road to Oz at Marvel.
However no one’s been able to focus on the horror aspect of Baum’s creations, those flying monkeys are bound to give people nightmares, that is until writer Angelo Tirotto and artist Richard Jordan decided to do exactly just that. Their twisted take on Oz, No Place Like Home at Image Comics has won admirers left right, and centre, the first arc has now been collected into a trade paperback . Focusing on the grisly things going on in Emeraldsville, it climaxed with the sassy heroine Lizzie in the hands of very foul mouthed wicked witch.
The second arc is being planned for release earlier this year. Having met Richard Jordan at a convention last year I spoke to both Richard and Angelo about Lizzie, violence, and what’s going to happen next in the world of Oz and most importantly, what did they think of Oz: The Great and Powerful?
This was your first foray into doing a monthly series, how did you find it?
RJ:“I found it incredibly hard work, I was working from 6-2AM every evening after working all day at a games company. It was an amazing opportunity to be published by Image comics so I knew I had to do it. Once that first issue was in my hands I was so happy, the late nights were all worth it.”
What was it like working alongside Angelo?
RJ:“It was great, he was always available and really cared about what we were doing. I'd actually like to work alongside him properly in the future – let's get a studio Angelo!”
Do you think Horror comics have become mainstream thanks to The Walking Dead and your book in particular?
AT:“I think The Walking Dead made horror mainstream a long time before No Place Like Home came along. For me, 30 Days of Night opened the coffin doors and The Walking Dead drove the stake right through the heart, or is it brains, of any misconception that horror comics were, for want of a better word, dead. Having said that, Mike Mignola has always kept the torch burning with Hellboy and B.P.R.D. (one of my obsessions) along with Hellblazer and in more recent times, the brilliant Locke & Key.”
Critics have said you and Rich captured small town America perfectly, what did you do for research?
AT:“Being a Brit I was very conscious that the dialogue had to sound just right, I mean, I’ve never been to the US or Kansas for that matter, so I tried to avoid as much of the stereotypical farm talk as possible. I just wanted them to sound real, like the people I hang out with so I wrote what came naturally to me and the people around me. I’m also a huge fan of the use of dialogue in Quentin Tarantino’s movies which influences my writing style and adds a little more American authenticity to No Place Like Home.”
How did you come up with the look of Lizzie?
RJ:"I wanted to design someone who would be fun to draw each and every time. Pretty girl characters can be boring to draw, but I hope I managed to create a character other artists would like to draw."
What does the female readership think of Lizzie, as she’s such a strong character.
AT:“They love her, which is great because she’s my favourite too. I’m overwhelmed by how well Lizzie has been received, especially as I originally planned to kill her off early in the first arc. In fact, I remember lying in bed until 5am after I had written her ‘death’ and not being able to sleep until I got up and resurrected her. No Place Like Home would be pretty dull without Lizzie, she’s so much fun to write and I would really miss her.
Why do girls like her so much? Well, my life revolves around skateboarding, art and music so as you can imagine it’s full of very strong, alternative, tattooed, and pierced ladies. I wanted Lizzie to be a truer reflection of women from these subcultures as they are, more often than not, badly and falsely represented in comics and film.
Lizzie is real. She looks, sounds, and acts just like the thousands of women out there who choose to paint their bodies and listen to Queens of the Stone Age. She’s just trying to deal with the crazy things happening to her in the best way she can, which is usually to punch them in the face. She has no special powers or abilities, she doesn't wear a skin tight costume that flashes her tits or is she reliant on an alpha male to solve her problems. She just gets on with it and, with a lot of attitude and a little courage, gets the job done.
It’s because of this I think Lizzie has earned a following, and rightly so, she’s amazing!”
Richard: The Artist for No Place Like Home
You’ve hinted that you’re going to change your art on NPLH’s facebook page, do you think that echoes when Wizard Of Oz went from black and white to colour?
RJ:“Yes that's exactly the reason I was considering it. I think it's important as an artist to challenge yourself. So I want to be able to deliver a different take on the book but still keep the fans we have.”
Now that the first arc is over will the second arc be more fantasy oriented?
AT:“Definitely! The book will take a huge fantasy based turn now that the story is moving to Oz. It’s also going to get much more complicated with many spiralling inter-connecting story lines both on Earth and Oz but contains as much depraved shit as Image will let me publish. In my mind, volume 1 was always an introduction to the real story, a doorway to the real guts of No Place Like Home. Expect to see a whole cast of re-imagined characters and creatures from the Land of Oz in the next arc.”
You attended conventions last year what was it like and what did you think of fans?
RJ:“Loads of fun! I enjoyed the conventions tonnes and wished Angelo had been there too to see how much love we were getting from fans. I was really pleased with the response of fans who had followed the series, everyone was a pleasure to talk to. Especially you Neil;)”
How did you and Richard come up with the look of the Wicked Witch who appeared at the end?
AT: “I asked Rich to give Zooey Deschanel green skin, a ‘fuck you’ attitude and a 50s slant. Rich, as always, added a sprinkling of his magic and nailed it pretty much from the get go. She’s got everything I wanted her to have and more and I can’t wait to unleash her on the world. She’s going to be your new favourite villain.”
As an artist how do you feel about drawing violent scenes?
RJ: “I grew up on a diet of horror movies and Kung Fu movies, I think I wore out the pause button on my parents VHS watching the more gruesome parts of Robocop in slow motion. However a few years ago my stomach for violence totally left me, to the point where it’s hard work to watch an episode of Casualty. I had to draw the scenes from NPLH with a bucket next to my desk.”
What are your favourite pages in No Place Like Home?
AT: “I think it has to be the last page of #5 when we first see the witch in all her glory. There are many great pages before that but I pretty much wrote the first arc just to deliver that one page! I’m still thinking up a way of convincing Rich to let me have the original art and, bar some pretty weird shit, I’d do anything to have that hanging on my wall.”
RJ: “In episode 3, there are 2 pages next to each other that I think I did a good job on. Dee and Lizzie have just ran out of the churchyard to the car and hear a gunshot. The next page is Frank searching for Thomas, but the flying monkey has Frank in his sights. I love these 2 pages, I think they flowed out without any problems, I was in a bit of a groove by this point.”
I'd hate to be in that angry Monkey's line of sight!
You’re good friends with Ian Churchill. What was it like pitching to Ian and also Eric Stephenson?
AT: “Ian has always been very supportive and we would regularly discuss my ideas at length, so I never really had to pitch anything to him. One day, during one of these long conversations, through the barrage of my hyper activity, he offered to hand Eric a pitch for The Spear and, as an after thought, No Place Like Home. I was super stoked, I owe Ian a lot, he’s a good egg. Thanks again, dude!
Pitching to Eric is very, very easy. You give him your work and if he thinks it will be a success you get a green light, if not, it’s back to the drawing board. It’s as simple as that. The frightening part is getting a ‘Yes’ because that’s when things get real. That’s a very scary moment indeed.”
It’s often reported that Image #1s are quite collectible and go for silly amounts on eBay and at cons, do you think that helped the first issue?
AT: “I really don’t know. I don’t think it did so much with No Place Like Home because Rich and I were total unknowns which is always a consideration when picking up an #1. It didn’t hurt, but I don’t think it was a major factor in #1’s numbers as the 2nd print sold out too.”
Image is getting a lot of UK talent, is this the British invasion all over again?
AT: “Image is getting a lot of ALL the talent! If there is a second invasion I’ll do my best to hang on to the coat tails just in case someone writes about it fondly in years to come. On a serious note, I think the British are now a staple part of the American comic book industry, hopefully I’ll be accepted and added to it as my writing matures.”
Do you see yourself drawing superheroes in the future, or are you happy at Oz?
RJ: “I'd be happy drawing anything with a lot of characterization. I love drawing acting and emotion. I'd really like to get better at that, I don’t mind whether that’s kitchen sink stuff, Space Opera, or the Hulk so long as it allows for great story and acting.”
How do you balance your job at Room 237 and as a writer?
AT: “I co-own the store so I share the work shifts with my business partner. However I also work in a bar and I’m going to California to work on another skateboard/art project in July so I’m always juggling projects but I’d rather be busy than bored.
I think it’s a given that you’re going to be working two jobs when trying to break into comics and comic book creation is a full time job! I don’t think people realise just how many hours it takes to produce one single issue. Hopefully, No Place Like Home, The Spear, and a few other things in the pipe line will enable me to write full time and become a silent partner in the comic book store. Until then, lots of cups of tea and late nights.“
What kind of things have you and Richard learnt from doing a monthly comic and how are you going to apply that for your next project which is The Spear?
AT: “Expect to work 24/7 for very little financial reward. Don’t expect to see your loved ones, pets, or friends for extended periods of time and always, always hit your deadlines. Lateness can kill the momentum and interest in a book and we were a little late with the last issue of No Place Like Home. We’re getting a few issues in the can before soliciting the second arc so we don’t find ourselves in that position again. We owe it to the fans to be on time, every time.
As for The Spear, Rich will be far too busy with his day job and No Place Like Home so I’m looking for a suitable artist right now to draw The Spear which will also be published through Image. Get your portfolios in!
Also, self promotion is key! You can have a great book but it isn’t going to sell if no one knows about it and I don’t think we did enough promotion for No Place Like Home, so it’s shouting from the rooftops with The Spear and the next No Place Like Home arcs. You can never do enough!
Other than that, we learned that it’s an extremely difficult business to be successful in and we have a new found respect for creators and now we know what it takes to get a book on the stands.”
Speak about no Monkeys, See no Monkeys, and Hear nothing about any Monkeys
Where does The Spear stem from?
AT: “Ben Templesmith. Basically, when Ben broke out with 30 Days of Night I instantly became an avid fan and back then we spoke often via email. I was inspired so much by his work I decided I’d have a go at digital art. I’d been a professional graphic designer since 1991 so I knew how to use the software and many, many, MANY hours later I had created a cover image of a young vampire girl.
I quickly decided that the experiment was over but I was left with an image without a story. I’d always had a keen interest in horror and World War II due to my Uncle Rick introducing me to all kinds of books and movies as a child, so it didn’t take long to figure out what to do with it, and The Spear was born.”
You decided to write No Place Like Home due to seeing an adaptation which you didn’t like on TV, what did you think of Sam Raimi’s recent film?
AT: “I’ve not seen it yet, but only because I don’t want it influencing anything I’m working on with No Place Like Home. I did watch the trailer which looked absolutely stunning so, once I’ve finalised the second arc, I’ll be the first in line with my popcorn!”
Since Oz is in public domain, how do you see other incarnations of the characters in comics?
AT: “I absolutely love what Bill Willingham is doing with the Oz characters in Fables and Fables in general as it’s consistently been one of the best books on the stands since I picked up #1 over a decade ago. I’ve held off reading the Oz backup story from the recent ‘Cubs in Toyland’ arc until after the second arc of No Place Like Home is nailed down but my will power is waning!!!
Other than that I’ve not looked into any other incarnations other than starting to read Wicked, which is fast becoming a favourite of mine.
For now I’m focusing on nothing other than the original source material and movie so I can keep it as pure as possible and not be accused of borrowing anything from anyone else, oh, and give Lizzie something else to punch!”
Special thanks to Angelo Tirotto and Richard Jordan.