Comics Creator Column #02: Joey Esposito and “Footprints”

by Tauriq Moosa

DEC111216This week in my Comic Creator Column, I’ll be interviewing and discussing funny book issues with JOEY ESPOSITO. Last week I held a brilliant interview (not because of me but because of her) with the amazing Alex de Campi. You can read that Comics Creator Column #01 here.

If you have the internet – which I think anyone reading this should – and read comics, chances are you know who this gentleman is. He is Comics Editor at one of the most influential entertainment websites, IGN. He is, more importantly I think, writer on the wonderful comic miniseries FOOTPRINTS, with artist Jonathan Moore, published by 215Iink.

As Joey will explain, Footprints is a wonderful noir tale with a great twist. It’s appropriately violent, compelling and well-plotted. What’s wonderful for me, of course, is that it’s not superheroes but it still involves the supernatural. I’m not a fan of the supernatural in general, being what Americans call a ‘skeptic’, but when used appropriately in fictional stories, it can add a wonderful foil to help us consider reality anew. Esposito wrangles in a tale of fraternity and love betrayed, using creatures so unhuman that it’s a testament to his writing that we come to actually care about ugly, humanoid half-men and horrid, impish creatures.

Please support this wonderful talent, with beautiful artwork by Jonathan Moore, by purchasing the series. Or you can use the first link above to purchase the already sold-out-but-coming-back Trade Paperback of the whole, brilliant series.

Joey also provides some great insights for us aspiring writers – though you’ll see he hates that term. I disagree with him, but, well, you can see for yourself that we just agree on what ‘aspiring’ means. On with the interview…

TAURIQ MOOSA: Who the hell are you and how did you get into my inbox! Police!

SOME GUY: My name is Joey Esposito, I’m the writer of the comic FOOTPRINTS, published by 215 Ink! I’m also the Comics Editor at IGN.com and a huge fan of cats.

TM: Fine. I believe you. So, tell us, Joey – Why should people care about comics?

JE: I think the question is “why shouldn’t they”? Comics have everything. Any genre, any art style, infinite possibilities. I think the most common and unfortunate misconception is that comics only consist of capes and tights. There are even people who refuse to read anything BUT capes and tights. If you say “I love comics” and downright refuse to explore beyond superhero comics, I say you’re a liar. If you give it a shot and PREFER capes and tights, that’s different. That’s fine. My point is, much like everyone can find a movie, TV show or album that they love more than any other, the same is true in comics. There’s a comic book for everybody, I don’t care who you are. It’s just a matter of getting your hands on the right one.

TM: How did you get into comics (as a fan)?

JE: I honestly can’t remember a time without comics in my life. My mom collected Superman family comics when she was a kid and so it was just sort of passed down to me, I guess. The first book I remember getting at the store was an Adventures of Superman comic starring Gangbuster, and even as a four or five year old or whatever, it was BADASS. It was primarily Batman and Superman growing up, and then as the 90's boom happened I got more and more into it, usually collecting things at random from lots of different sources. Friends, siblings, whatever. As I got older, I explored a bit and expanded my horizons while narrowing my focus, so to speak.

TM: How did you get into comics (as a creator)?

JE: I guess I’d always been into making comics, even as a kid, tracing Superman pages and things like that. Shit that most kids that love comics do, I guess. But I went to film school, which sort of helped me develop the kind of storyteller I wanted to be. While I was there, I took some comics courses that exposed me to some new things as well as honed in on the storytelling aspects and possibilities of creating comics and telling stories in that way. I just realized that comics is a medium that has absolutely no limits in any regard. There’s nothing you can’t do in comics. So, I focused most of my creative energies on concocting ideas I wanted to tell through comics. Needless to say, my thesis film sucked. By that time I knew it’d make a better comic strip than a movie.

TM: Tell us about Footprints!

(And any projects you are currently doing if you're allowed to)

Footprintscover

JE: Footprints is a 4-issue mini-series about Bigfoot as a private detective solving the murder of his brother Yeti. It’s hardboiled noir with elements of horror and comedy too. It’s a lot of fun, plus it has all the cryptids you know and love in brand new ways. Foot’s the private dick, Jersey Devil his hapless sidekick, Chupacabra is the muscle, Nessy is the no fuss sass, and of course there’s a femme fatale that ties the entire tale together. The artist Jonathan Moore and I have been at this book for about a year – self-publishing the first issue and then using Kickstarter to raise the rest of the funds – but it’s awesome to finally hear people’s reactions and everything. The trade is being solicited now in Previews, so go to your local comic book shop and tell them you want the Footprints trade!

As for other stuff, Jonathan and I are working on a graphic novel together next, which I’m writing while he wraps up Footprints. It’s going to be completely different and we’re really excited about it. I’m also working on another series that I’m not really ready to talk about and a bunch of various short comic projects and such. 2012 will be a pretty diverse year for me, I’m excited to say.

TM: How did you meet Mr Moore? What has your experience been as a writer co-ordinating, finding and working with artists? As an amateur myself, this has been the most difficult part.

JE: We met on a creator website called Digital Webbing, when I was looking for an artist for a Zuda pitch (before it went defunct). We started working together on an 8-page pitch, and eventually got to talking about doing another project together, which became Footprints. That was my first real experience going on a hunt for an artist. I’ll be honest, I had to sift through a lot of people. When you post in a forum like that, it’s inevitable you’ll get people that don’t even read your post and just send you some generic inquiry letter and attachments (when you specifically ask them not to) of only pin-ups (when you specifically ask for sequentials). After a day or two of those kind of e-mails, you get to be pretty good and filter through with ease. But then there are the genuine talents – the ones that you save for future reference – and Jonathan was one of those.

It’s a big hurdle for a lot of new writers, but it can be done. Also go to conventions and skip the PR regurgitation of whatever Hollywood panel is happening and really inspect Artist’s Alley. Talk with people, look at their work, exchange information. Everyone is there because they love making art, so it can’t hurt.

TM: Why 215Ink?

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JE: First of all, they publish a book called Vic Boone by Shawn Aldridge, which I effing love. I’ve been a fan of that book since it was a Zuda competitor, and so my ulterior motive is just to be able to write a Vic Boone story someday! He and Bigfoot are both private detectives, after all, so maybe their cases will cross paths. But in general, 215 Ink has a commitment to creator-owned comics that I respect. The guys behind the scenes are smart, decent guys. It’s really like a family atmosphere, as cheesy as that sounds. It’s tough being in the small press, both creatively and as a business, but anyone at 215 Ink gives it their all regardless.

TM: 215Ink might also be my first publisher – for a short comic – and I was excited about it because I get to share a publisher with you, Joey. They've also been getting a fair amount of attention from the American indie-comic scene. Their upcoming anthology has been posted on Comic Collab Boards all over the net – with writers seeking artists. Are things looking up for them? What else, aside from Footprints and Vic Boone, would you recommend to comics fans? Please nothing with capes or tights. I ban such talk on my columns.

JE: First, not to misunderstand – capes and tights are awesome! You shouldn’t ban them! Or anything, really! But I digress. 215 Ink has a book called Jesus Hates Zombies that’s a lot of fun for the undead lovers in all of us. Extinct and Black River are also really cool. The great thing about them is that they’ve got such a wide variety – from noir (us!) to kid’s books to crime to superheroes to horror. It’s a nice mix.

TM: What are your plans for the future? Projects, talks, countries to be conquered?

JE: Lots of plans, lots and lots. I’ve got the comics projects I mentioned earlier that are happening for sure in 2012, but of course there are plenty of other things I’m developing at various stages. It’s always really hard for me to stay focused on just one thing. I know most writers won’t recommend doing that, but if I have an idea or something I’ve got to get it down, even if I don’t go back to it for months. At least then I can come back to it and have a fresh opinion of it. A lot of things developed that way for me. Outside of comics, I’m slowly working my way through a novel and some short stories.

TM: What advice do you have for writers?

JE: I guess going off of what I mentioned above, I don’t think there’s any “right” way to write. You should always treat it like a job. Always. You can’t just write when you’re inspired or you feel like it. But don’t reject an idea just because you’re “supposed” to be working on something else. If there’s something that will nag at you unless you get it on paper, then get it out and come back to it later. I think the most valuable thing to me is knowing that you can always revisit something, so if you’re stuck, power through. Once you have the pieces, if they are literally pieces of shit, it’s a hell of a lot easier to clean up.

And also, this should be a given, but it’s surprising how many people give up. Don’t give up. And don’t sell yourself short. For example, I hate seeing people call themselves “an aspiring writer.” That to me screams “I have no confidence in my abilities.” Writers don’t “aspire” to write. They WRITE. They might aspire to get PAID for it, but if you write, you’re a writer as far as I’m concerned.

TM: I had always assumed that what is meant by “aspiring writer” WAS “aspiring professional writer who gets paid”. I didn't realise people aspire to JUST write – that sounds quite silly. Now you've got me doubting how to introduce myself. Thanks, Esposito – now I'll have to go back to “Eater of pies and children’s' dreams” under my bio.

I mean, that’s what I get from it. I could be wrong. I guess what I’m talking about is people that say “I’ve got a great idea!” but never take it any further. Take the plunge!

TM: Any specific writers that you are fond of and that inspire you?

JE: There are so many. I’m a huge Nick Hornby fan. To me, there’s nothing more interesting than every day human existence, however tragic or funny or sad as it may be. And I think he’s an author that can really catch that in a bottle, time and again. And Elliott Smith as well. There is so much beauty in his words and music that is really inspiring and important to feel, I think, when you’re dealing with real life. And he’s not a writer, at least not exclusively, but Wes Anderson too. Here’s that real world thing again – he’s able to capture the quirks and utter bizarre situations of life in a really larger than life way. The situations are exceptional but the characters are incredibly real. I love that.

But in terms of comics, there are so many people whose work I love. Grant Morrison, for one, not that I’m in the minority there. I love his ability to look at his stories from this bird’s eye perspective, in individual pieces, and see how it fits even though we might question what the hell he is doing every step of the way. Brian Wood is also a personal favorite, from his work on New York Four to DV8 to Northlanders and everything else. Not only his storytelling, but also his approach to his career. Obviously he’s best known for his creator-owned work like DMZ and Demo and Local and all that. But here he is now, writing a Supernatural mini-series at DC and a Wolverine mini at Marvel. I like that he’s open to those kind of things, and as a result, will have an incredibly diverse list of work. And more recently, Scott Snyder. I’m honored to say that he’s become a friend (and contributed the foreword to the Footprints trade), but his work is educational too. He’s got this storytelling precision that no one else can match right now. Talking with him was a huge help to me on Footprints.

TM: Hornby is amazing. He is a wonderful creator of character and dialogue – that's an excellent person to note for comics writers. With regard to Grant Morrison, I'm the one in the minority. I can't read his comics. I've tried so many of them, but have only loved Joe the Barbarian. Everything else confuses me. Anyway, that's amazing that you got to know Mr Snyder. He IS exceptional. It's great to know bigshots are supporting slightly less-sized shots – that's something I've always loved about this community. I mean I've managed to get interviews with you and Alex de Campi and I'm interviewing Kody frickin' Chamberlain next. Few other creative communities seem to be so encouraging and friendly, putting the stories before egos (though not always).

JE: Yeah, not always, unfortunately. But for the most part, comics is the best industry in that way. It’s not like there’s a whole lot of money in it, so anyone that is here and making comics for a living is doing it out of a love for the medium. And with an industry so small, it’s important for the established guys to pay it forward, to help usher in the next big talents. It’s the only way the industry will continue to thrive.

In terms of being friendly, this is one of the very few mediums of entertainment that everyone is pretty accessible and open to talk. Again, because they love the industry and the work that they do. Whether it’s via e-mail or at a convention or whatever, most people in this business are really easy to talk with. In my experience, anyway.

TM: Do you have a writing process? Do you plan out the whole series, then break it down? Do you work on a specific writing program or just plain old Word?

JE: Generally, I start with a bunch of disconnected notes that range from specific lines of dialog to more general story beats and character descriptions. I jump around a lot, adding to one bit, subtracting from another, etc., until the whole thing is somewhat formed. You know, beginning, middle, end, important characters and their relationships, plot points, emotional beats, all of that. If someone was to read the document at this stage, they’d have no idea what to make of it. But from there I’ll break it down into a more functional outline. From there, I generally write sequentially, or at least I think I do, but then scenes end up changing issues and things like that. And I always, always, always write the dialog of a page before panel descriptions. It helps enormously with pacing your story both in terms of dialog and the visual beats.

I usually do everything in Google Docs to easily share with my collaborators and also to have access to it regardless of what computer I’m on. For Footprints, I made my own formatting template that worked for Jonathan and I. For the things I’m working on now, I moved back to Movie Magic Screenwriter – which I typically used for screenplays, obviously, but it has a comic book template. It just takes formatting out of the equation, letting you worry about more important things. You know, like the story.

TM: The what? Anyway, who's your favourite comics artist?

Footprints-420x614

JE: Jonathan Moore, duh. In all seriousness, Jonathan’s a fantastically diverse artist. He can literally do anything in so many different styles.

But otherwise, I’m a huge fan of Chris Samnee, Gabriel Hardman, Cliff Chiang, Dustin Nguyen, Sean Murphy and Rebekah Isaacs. There are a bunch more, obviously, but those are artists that I’ll pick up any book they are working on – regardless of writer, character, publisher, genre. It doesn’t matter, I’m there.

TM: What is your dream position as a comics creator? Mine is to be writing HELLBLAZER and my own creative project with VERTIGO. Also, to write a graphic novel about Spidie villain CARNAGE and one about Batman's Alfred Pennyworth. Actually, I want any comic that'd be with Dave McKean or Jim Lee… Um, anyway, you were saying?

JE: All I want out of working in comics is to be able to do it and pay my bills while leaving behind a body of work that I’m satisfied with. Oh, and doing so while living away from society in Vermont somewhere. That’s the #1 selling point of being a writer, you can do it from anywhere. That’s a perk. But in comics, I just want to be happy with what I’m putting out. I don’t necessarily need (or want) to write a household name character. Are there characters at Marvel and DC that I’d love to write? Of course. But I just want to be able to tell the stories I want to tell in the medium I love most.

TM: Agreed. And speaking of the industry, do you think the comics medium and/or industry is suffering?

JE: The comics medium is definitely not suffering. The medium, I think, is stronger creatively than it has been in a really long time. The problem comes from the industry part of things, namely distribution.

That system is broken.

And in terms of sales/readership and all of that, yeah it could be doing a lot better. But we could also be doing a lot more, as an industry, to get the mythical “new readers.” DC had a step in the right direction with the relaunch, but it could’ve been taken much further. There are people I meet that discover my line of work and are utterly confused as to how I could be making a living, either at IGN or making comics. They know of Green Lantern and Captain America because hey, they just had movies, but are they still actually making comic books? It’s like a revelation. That SHOULDN’T be a revelation. That indicates something is wrong – we’ve let comics become this niche thing. We should shove it down everybody’s throat.

There needs to be more awareness of comic books themselves – not just their characters – in book stores, TV, online, everywhere. For a start. Marvel did a great thing earlier this year by offering free access to their Marvel Digital Unlimited service when connected to Wi-Fi at Starbucks. That’s a simple, FREE way of getting exposure to people that might not be aware of comics. Things like that are the kinds of initiatives we need. There’s too much preaching to the choir, so to speak. I think it’s possible to please your fans while still accepting new ones. It’s time to try some new things, reach out to new people.

So to answer your question, I think we could be doing better and I think we WILL be eventually, but I think creativity is at an all time high.

~~

Thanks again to Joey for doing this interview. You can read the first issue of Footprints for free online, just have a look at Joey's blog. I seem to be doing well with my interviewees who have provided such incredible insight into their stories, comic writing in general and comics as a whole. As someone completely new to this whole industry and process, I’m incredibly grateful that they’ve taken time out to help inform the rest of us.

Again, please support Joey and the wonderful comic he is creating. I know how tired we all are of the silliness coming from publishers and, as we know, what some of the big publishers do to creators. For those of you who are Diamond fundies, the code you can try is DEC111216. Joey also told me if you go to this TFAW link, you’ll get a 20% discount on the whole damned Graphic Novel.

Next time, I should be catching something called a Kody Chamberlain, which has only been captured on blurred footage in distant northern parts of American woodlands. See you then.

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