Friend of A Comic Book Blog Joey Esposito, who caught our attention with his monster-filled noir/drama, Footprints has now moved on to write a mini-series for Zenescope called Grimm Fairy Tales: Bad Girls! He took a out to talk to us about this new project starting in July, some other projects he’s got upcoming, and a pretty crazy last 18 months. Read on for more of our interview!
Geoff: Things have really seemed to move quickly for you over the past year and a half. When we first talked, you were promoting Footprints to raise money on Kickstarter. Since then, that got picked up by 215 Ink for distribution as a collected trade. You’ve gotten to contribute on other projects. Now, you’ve got a gig with Zenescope Entertainment on the new series, Bad Girls. Can you describe the experience for us?
Joey: It’s been crazy! I’m really elated with all of the support that Footprints has gotten – through Kickstarter, the comics press, and beyond. It’s been awesome, and it’s really helped to open some doors. Like you mentioned, I’ve been doing a bunch of work for anthologies and stuff, trying my hand at different things. And, most importantly, I’ve learned a lot. About using Kickstarter, about small press, about the trials and tribulations of comic distribution, about promoting myself, all of that stuff. It’s been a hell of a learning experience, for sure.
Geoff: How did you get hooked up with Zenescope? Did they approach you or did you approach them?
Joey: I’ve known Raven Gregory at Zenescope for a while through my work as a member of the press. When I finished Footprints #1, I sent it his way for an opinion (and a quotable, thanks Raven!) and he dug it. I kept him up to date with its progress until it was done, and he enjoyed it. And then a few months ago, he reached out to me about working with Zenescope on what’s now Bad Girls.
Geoff: If there’s anything Zenescope is known for, it’s for their heroines and, well, bad girls. For fans of the Grimm Fairy Tales line, what should we expect to see in this series?
Joey: It’s everything that Zenescope fans have come to expect. A great fantasy mythology, tough-as-nails heroines, a crap-ton of action, and a bit of horror thrown in for good measure. The scope of this story is really huge – after issue #1, it really takes off and spans all the realms of the Grimm Fairy Tales universe. And, for those that follow the regular Grimm monthly, this is sort of a spin-off story of the events that follows in the wake of the huge Grimm Fairy Tales #75. Obviously I’ve never written an “event” type of book, but that’s what this feels like to me. The entire universe is involved and you’ll see many familiar characters throughout the course of the series.
Geoff: Before we talked about doing this interview, we briefly discussed that we have both read quite a bit of the Zenescope titles. Obviously, there’s a visual side to what they do, but the company kinda pulls in readers from all sorts of walks of life and those readers tend to stick around. How do you think they are able to keep selling books and seemingly able to expand in the number of titles they produce every few months?
Joey: I mean, look, we know that they’ve got those admittedly controversial cheesecake-style covers. But those are only going to draw a specific crowd of people that I don’t think would even approach the kind of numbers they see. I think what people are really drawn to in the Grimm titles are the legitimately solid mythology that they’ve created throughout the years. It’s not just “modern fairy tales” – it’s this gigantic, multi-tiered universe with its own rules and regulations. Not to mention that the characters running around in that universe are tough individuals. What Zenescope has created is pretty remarkable, considering how young they are as a company. I think their amount of success in relation to the short amount of time that they’ve been around speaks to their success as storytellers, delivering stories and characters that their core fans really love and look forward to.
Geoff: I definitely agree that the whole line has produced some serious quality over that short time. For this project in particular, what are some of aspects to the characters and story that you feel you can really sink your teeth into?
Joey: Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I was going to latch onto when I started. Obviously, I was really pumped to write Sela Mathers, the sort of name and face of Grimm Fairy Tales. But it wasn’t until issue #2, when Britney Waters – Red Riding Hood from Grimm #1 – comes into the story that I realized who I was going to have the most fun with. The last time we saw her in GFT: Myths and Legends, she was only just discovering the role that she has to play in the larger universe and in Bad Girls, she’s a bit further along in the path but still very much figuring out where to go. She’s been a ton of fun to explore; my favorite part of working on this book, for sure.
Geoff: I suspect that it’s safe to say that Bad Girls is a villain book? What are some of the challenges in writing a book with this type of cast?
Joey: It’s interesting, because while the titular Bad Girls are indeed the crux of this series, we’re still focusing on the heroic characters a great deal. The Bad Girls are at the center of everything in this series, namely making a play for the four realms and making life a living Hell for Sela and company. I guess one challenge of writing a book that implies the villains as a central focus is achieving a balance between the good guys and the bad guys. Making sure that no matter who purchases the book – whether it’s for more adventures with Sela or for more villainesses – is happy with their decision.
Geoff: I’ve always wondered and, in some ways, fantasized about how new writers got research materials when joining a company to do a project or jumping on board a title. How was this with Zenescope? Were you able to get in contact with editors or other writers, or were you able to request materials from them to get a little background into the story or characters?
Joey: Yeah, I mean, even though I’ve read their books for a longtime now, there’s stuff I needed refreshers on. So they were happy to provide any reference material I needed, and of course give me some stuff that, at the time, hadn’t been published yet but that I needed to read in order to have some context in terms of continuity and such. After all, this is a universe not unlike that of Marvel or DC – there are a lot of wheels spinning and lot of different writers involved. It’s the publisher’s job to make sure we’re all in line with one another and on the same page.
And, I have to give a shout out to my friend Robot at Earth 2 Comics in Northridge, who was kind enough to lend me some of the Grimm trades I’m missing for quick reference material, so I didn’t have to dig through PDFs and such. Thanks, Robot!
Geoff: Now, Bad Girls and Footprints aren’t the only thing of yours that’s on the spinners these days… Tell us a bit about how you scored the back-up short in Image Comics’ Grim Leaper #1.
Joey: Yes! Well, the Grim Leaper back-up that appeared has actually been in existence for a while. Jeff McComsey and I did that short as a one-week comic challenge – the point was to create and finish a 5-page comic in exactly one week, from conception to final product. The theme was just “Jack Kirby” – I figured most people would go for the big cosmic New Gods-type stuff, so I opted for an homage to the Kirby/Joe Simon Modern Romance comics. I love romance comics in general, so I wanted to kind of update that classic style for the 21st century, but keep the feel of it all. So we made our one week deadline, and that was that.
But then Kurtis [Wiebe, writer of Grim Leaper] hit me up as he was prepping Grim Leaper for Image, saying that he wanted to do some back-up material for the single issues. Luckily, he was looking for love stories! I showed him the short Jeff and I had done and he was kind enough to include it in issue #1. I admit I was worried that we’d be pretty light-hearted in comparison to the main Grim Leaper story and the back-ups the other guys are doing for the other issues, but in the end, I think our story had a nice dichotomy with the main story. It’s not violent and twisted, but it’s beautifully melancholy in its own special way. Plus it looks so much better printed in that book than it ever did online.
Geoff: With that back up being inspired by old Simon/Kirby stuff, who are some of the writers that have inspired you in your writing? How do some of those inspirations seep into your works? Is it safe to say Bad Girls will find the that same inspiration working its way in?
Joey: Oof. That’s a loaded question! In general, my primary influences come from writers like Nick Hornby, Chris Ware, Jason and Grant Morrison. They’re all really character-centric writers that are able to make the bland, everyday world far more fantastical – even Jason, who does all of his work in those quirky animal characters and Morrison, who just goes off the rails. But there’s still a really fundamental understanding of human nature in there, and I love that. I love superheroes and genre work and all that stuff as much as anyone, but for me, there’s nothing more important or more fascinating than the everyday world. It’s just as dramatic and absurd as anything in even the most fantastical imagination. So that’s the kind of work I want to strive for, because that’s what really speaks to me. I have a long, long way to go, but I’m trying.
As for seeing that influence in Bad Girls, I’m certainly trying. It’s a big action book, but I’m doing my best to make sure there are still moments of humanity and personality sprinkled throughout. From my experience, action is meaningless unless you care about everyone that’s involved. So hopefully that comes out in the series.
Geoff: Take us through how you develop a story from scratch. How do you know when you have something you can move forward with? At what point do you feel things need reworking or won’t make the cut? How does that change when working with pre-established characters like in GFT: Bad Girls?
Joey: Most stories start with me almost drifting off to sleep and then waking suddenly with an idea, reaching over and typing up a quick note in my phone so I don’t forget it. Then I’m lucky enough to live in LA where I have to sit in traffic for hours every day, so that gives me a lot of time to mull over those ideas. Sometimes it’s really easy, and sometimes it’s not. One problem I stumble into quite often, that I think many writers probably do, is you get a great idea, but not necessarily a good story. Some cool sort of hook or theme or something that really excites you, but there’s simply no story or character to go along with it. I find myself writing with the most ease when the character and his journey is clear in my mind. Finding a story to fit a character is far easier than finding a character to fit a story, if that makes any sense. For me, anyway. If I can’t get something to jive, I just keep that note alive and I’ll come back to it every once in a while and talk about it with friends until something springs up. Footprints was like that, actually. It began as an idea years ago but just sort of gestated until I found the right overall approach and story for it.
But doing something with characters owned by a company is completely different. Zenescope had a story they wanted to be told in this series, and I’m just the guy telling it. That’s not to say my voice isn’t in the book, because I hope it is, but in this case, it’s a very specific story with certain beats that I have to hit. To some degree, it’s both challenging and freeing to work within those kind of constraints. Instead of having the literal entirety of the possibility of fiction open to me, I have to work within certain boundaries. It helps focus your mind and get the story told. At the same time, there are things I would’ve liked to do or directions I would’ve liked to take that weren’t possible due to those same boundaries. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the learning process for me. Bad Girls is my first experience working with notable characters that I’m just borrowing, and I feel like I can take everything I’ve learned here to make the next thing I do that much better.
Geoff: For those who have never picked up a Grimm Fairy Tales book, tell them why they should give Bad Girls a try.
Joey: I won’t lie and say it’s entirely independent of the main Grimm book. It very much ties to the events that are happening and events still to come. But that said, everything that you need to know is given to you and then you’re off and running. But it’s a lot of fun – like I said, lots of action, lots of humor. Hopefully along the way, you’ll get a feel and appreciation for the characters involved and that will lead you to further exploration of the Grimm universe. There’s a lot of great stuff to discover.
Geoff: What’s next? Are you looking for more work for hire gigs or are you looking to go back to more creator owned projects? What’s the status of the story about the time traveling government agent, Rip Nixon?
Joey: I’m totally available for more work-for-hire gigs! Editors, call me!
But yes, I’m always working on the next creator-owned thing. That’s where my heart is. Speaking of which, I’m glad that you mentioned Nixon! After numerous false starts with different artists, I’m finally finishing up a solid pitch with artist Drew Zucker. The project has changed pretty drastically since I last mentioned it, which is why I’ve sort of stopped talking about it. But I’m still really excited about it and hope everyone gets to see it someday.
In addition to that, I’ve been working on a graphic novel with Sean Von Gorman called Pawn Shop, which we’re going to Kickstart later this summer. Hopefully we succeed! I’ll make sure to badger you into another interview to help promote our campaign – Haha! But that’s a slice-of-life story revolving around, you guessed it, a Pawn Shop, with some really beautifully watercolor work mixed with digital elements that gives it a really unique look, I think. Jonathan Moore and I have also started early work on a new pitch we’re putting together, so hopefully that comes to fruition too. Lots of gears of turning!
But in terms of things that are definitely happening – I’ve got a short story in the next volume of the FUBAR zombie anthology, which comes out in the fall, I think. And I co-wrote a horror story for a new horror anthology with my buddy Erik Norris that will be included in a book with some really, really stellar talent. Hopefully there will be more info on that soon.
But still, editors, call me.
You will find Grimm Fairy Tales: Bad Girls at your local comic shop and through online vendors on July 25th, 2012! For more information about the different titles from Zenescope Entertainment, click HERE to visit their website. To learn more about what Joey’s up to, you can find news and info HERE. Thanks again to Joey for taking the time to answer some questions and we wish him the best of luck has he continues on with his writing!