Interview with Warlock 5 Writer Jimmy Z. Johnston
We’re excited to feature Jimmy Z. Johnston, writer for the Kickstarter-funded revival of Warlock 5!
What was your first contact with Warlock 5?
I picked them up new off the shelf in the late 80s. I remember seeing the cover to issue one and thinking it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.
Why did it capture you?
100% the cover. I bought it because that cover was one of the most incredible I had seen. Issues 2-6 had fully painted covers featuring the face of each Warlock. And they stand the test of time today as being some of the most striking covers of their time.
Did you have a favorite issue?
In many ways, the first issue holds that honor. It did such a wonderful job introducing the world.
How about a beloved character?
I have a ton of art I did through high school, and there is one montage I have of dozens of characters I loved from various works. Argon is in that montage, if I find it I will share it.
Did these change once you picked the books up to work on the project?
When I read them years ago, I never thought about the idea of where their story might go if I was writing it. It was a few years later that I began thinking about these things in earnest. But rereading the original series now is a tough thing to do. Because it is very much a product of the time. Storytelling was different back then. In issue 3 (I think) Zania sets off a nuke in Grid City. In issue 4 they don’t even acknowledge it. There is no way a writer could do something like that today, the fans would be all over it. They did resolve that eventually in the trade, but if you only get the issues you don’t see the resolution.
As for characters, when we started writing the series, I spent a lot of my time working on the new character Lycia, so my view of the original characters didn’t change much at all.
The original work must have cast a heavy weight, but what other influences did you have?
Clive Barker is my biggest influence. He tells stories in ways that no other writer I have ever read can compare to. I do find it interesting, having read comics spanning all eras, how storytelling in comics has changed. I worked on Micronauts with Cullen Bunn, a series that originated with Marvel in the 70s. I have talked to fans who wish we were writing stories like the ones Marvel did. But the reality is that nobody could write like that today. Readers wouldn’t be interested in it. There are many readers who seek out the older stories like that, but the nostalgia factor lets them be read without worrying about the storytelling. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is one that stands the test of time. He did such a fantastic job telling the stories he told, that they will always be relevant examples of how to tell a story.
The writing process is a collaboration between you and Cullen Bunn. How is it to collaborate with other artists? Is there too much compromise?
In spite of what Cullen says, we work really well together.
But seriously, we sit down and talk out the idea. Then we write up a page by page outline. Sometimes that could be one line “FIGHT” or it could be a paragraph with dialogue we want to make sure we use. Through this process we make sure we don’t have too many scenes we are trying to fit in. In this case it was a 60 page script, so when we finished the outline, we talked about scenes we “wanted.” Cullen really wanted the Savashtar investigating scene, so we blocked that out for him. After we do that it is usually pretty close to an even split on the workload.
When we finish our parts, I combine it into one unified script and we both go over it. This part is fun because we get to revel in the genius of our parts and rewrite the stuff the other guy did. I joke about it. Usually it involves tweaking a few things here and there, but not too terribly much.
This is not the only project you two have partnered up for. Why did you start working together?
I met Cullen in 2003. He met me in 2004. There is a story there, but this isn’t the day for that. We were both at a horror convention for writers in New York (in 2004). Found out we lived very close to each other and when we got home started talking and hanging out more. He was working on writing prose, and I had discovered an innate talent for editing. I did an edit for him on a story and he really liked what I did. That was the start of working together.
Are there any specific scenes or narrative developments you want to include in this continuation of the 80’s comic?
We are looking at this as a continuation of the series. 30 years later, these 5 are still defending reality from threats. They have changed, but the dynamics amongst them are still pretty consistent. Zania and Argon are the “bad” pair, while Tanith and Savashtar are the “good” pair, leaving Doomidor in the middle as the balance between them.
The only thing I really pushed for was doing a cover based on the original issue 1. We are technically working on the fourth run of the series. The second run was a short mini series that did a new version of the issue one cover. The third run did not, but it deviated massively from the original concept. I am glad that we got to use a version of the original cover. Jeffrey Edwards did an amazing job on it, and on every page that will be between the covers.
The five main characters are extremely different and layered. What was the biggest challenge bringing them to life?
Anytime you have an ensemble cast it takes time to develop the individuals. It is much easier to write a story with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman because you don’t need to establish who they are. You see the S, the Bat cowl, the lariat, and you instantly know who they are.
We have 5 main characters we are essentially introducing to readers. Along with a handful of new characters to the series. That takes time to develop. Being able to do a 60 page issue helps massively with the character development aspect.
Is it turning out the way you’ve envisioned it?
I am still pretty fresh in the comic world, so I am loving the process. Seeing thumbnails come in, then pencils, then inks, then colors. . . Seeing my words and scenes turned into comic pages is amazing. It is so much better than I envisioned it. I love it.
In these shaken times do you try to embed your work with some subliminal criticism or do you keep it detached from the outside world?
Oh, I am constantly putting Easter Eggs into things. Many of which go unnoticed. Cullen is always telling me not to worry about things like that because no one will notice. The secret is, I am putting them in for me. I am ok if no one else ever notices!
I am guessing though that your question is leaning more towards the current political and social climate in our country. And that is something I try and avoid. I don’t need to make enemies right now as I get started in writing. Many writers and artists are taking positions publicly about their support or lack of support for our current administration. I will leave that to them for now.
Anything you can tell us without giving out major spoilers?
We start out seeing the Warlock 5 fighting against an incursion into Grid City, but we will be showing them in their own worlds. And a portion of this first volume is going to take place on a new world in crisis. This will be creating a dilemma for them as they have to choose between helping an individual world or pulling back to Grid City and simply protecting the Grid. It goes towards the question of what are you protecting. It is all good standing guard over a forest and making sure it doesn’t succumb to a forest fire, but when you let a lumberjack in to cut down a tree. . . well, it sucks if you are that tree.
Thanks Jimmy for opening up about the future of Warlock 5!
About WARLOCK 5 KICKSTARTER
Five guardians protect the multiverse against the chaos that lurks outside the boundaries of reality. There’s only one problem: they hate each other.
A mystical nexus, a crossroads connecting all times, all realities. Along the ley lines of the Grid, the multiverse clusters. To move along the Grid is to move from one reality to the next. To harness the power of the Grid is to harness the awesome might of creation.Five touchstone realities exist at focal points along the Grid. From each of these realities, a Warlock is chosen to act as one of five Guardians.
Savasthar, a shapeshifting dragon-like being.
Doomidor, a warlord from the Dark Ages.Argon, an advanced cybernetic organism from a techno-hell.
Tanith, an ageless sorceress.
Zania, a power-mad, machine gun necromancer.
Together, the Warlocks protect the Grid, thereby protecting all of space and time. They are the last line of defense against the awful forces of chaos that lurk in the darkness outside the Grid.There’s only one problem.They hate each other.”
Originally created by Gordon Derry and Denis Beauvais, Warlock 5 was published by Barry Blair, a Canadian comic book publisher, artist and writer, known for launching Aircel Comics in the 1980s. A fierce advocate for innovation in the themes, genres, and types of illustrations, Blair helped to bring titles to life that broke the narrative and graphic boundaries at the time — including Warlock 5.
The new Warlock 5 Kickstarter funded this continuation of the Aircel Comics classic fantasy masterpiece. This 2017 reboot is written by CULLEN BUNN and JIMMY JOHNSTON, illustrated by JEFFREY EDWARDS with colors by ANDY POOLE, letters by ED DUKESHIRE, and designs by EDWARD LAVALLEE and SHAWN T. KING. This saga of rivalry, betrayal, magic, dragons, and killer robots is aiming for a 60-page full-color (hard cover) original graphic novel.
KANSAS, UNITED STATES (26th April, 2017) —
On the 26th April, Ragnarok Publications will launch a Kickstarter campaign for a reimagining of Warlock 5. Originally created by Gordon Derry & Denis Beauvais, Warlock 5 was published by Barry Blair, a Canadian comic book publisher, artist and writer, known for launching Aircel Comics in the 1980s. CULLEN BUNN and JIMMY Z JOHNSTON co-write this relaunched fantasy adventure while JEFFREY EDWARDS takes on the artwork with colors by ANDY POOLE.
The campaign seeks to fund the reinvention of this classic fantasy masterpiece, full of rivalry, betrayal, magic, dragons, and killer robots. The goal is to create a 60-page full-color original graphic novel with an entrancing action-packed narrative that will please both newcomers and fans of the early series.
This project is part of The Barry Blair Library, which provides a collection of approximately 300 issues and over 6000 pages of content collected from over a half-dozen publishers that Blair worked on through the 1980s and 90s. Prepare yourself to read works such as “Blood N Guts“, “Demon Hunter“, “Dragonring“, “Elflord” and “Gun Fury” for the first time in digital format.
Cullen & Johnston keep the story faithful to Blair’s work, while Edwards illustrates the most exhilarating multiverse scenes, all brought to life by Poole’s colors.
The new Warlock 5 series is something every comic fan will want.
# # #
Ragnarok Publications, founded in 2013 by Joseph Martin and Tim Marquitz, publishes genre fiction and has released about 50 titles from dozens of authors. They specialize in genre fiction and can be reached at www.ragnarokpub.com. Outland Entertainment was founded as a creative services company in 2008 by Jeremy Mohler. Since then, Outland has worked for a wide variety of clients across the world. Outland specializes in assembling creative teams and managing projects. Contact them via their site form or go to www.outlandentertainment.com. For more information, contact Gwendolyn Nix at email@example.com or Susana Grilo at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ok. So it’s no news to anyone that the comic book world was something of a novelty for me when I arrived at Outland Entertainment. Yes, I was a comic book fan all along and I didn’t know, but being conscious and actively looking for out of the ordinary titles and cult classics to read was a long way coming.
Right now, I’ve finally started reading one that was on the top of my list: Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.
Here’s the thing: I’m already a Gaiman fan. His collection of short stories Fragile Things grabbed my attention with its lyrically beautiful stories and completely wacky tales. It clearly shows the range of tone and narrative style this author has to offer.
I was enthralled by the radio version of Neverwhere. Yes, it had to do with the talented performances and the whole production value of the piece. However, the metaphorical London I was introduced to, the one where the streets I know and love get a whole new and mysterious meaning was mesmerizing.
But I digress.
With Gaiman, we have an author that writes novels, graphic novels and non-fiction essays. Let’s stick to the fiction so we can try and establish some comparisons.
You can point out how the tone is similar. How Gaiman intertwines complex and bizarre characters and intricately woven narratives the same way, be it in novel or graphic novels.
You get the same satirical incisive critic over the human pettiness. The whole impact is there.
Nonetheless, it’s impossible to deny that the format dominates, I won’t go as far as to say the outcome of the story, but definitely the way it progresses and the freedom you have to imagine those worlds.
Let’s get Sandman’s example back on the table. You can’t avoid the way each character is seared into your brain with each stroke of the artwork that has breathed life into them. The illustrations, the way the panels are laid out on each single page… it all boils down to a specific experience—not too different from, say, watching a movie. You have a visual presence that guides you and influences the way you perceive the story. For better or worse, it has the power to limit your imagination.
When reading a novel, you are forced to construct that unique world on your mind. You devour the descriptions, the actions, the little details about each character or setting and build your own vision of what the narrative is. For even the more detailed and thoroughly descriptive author cannot control the mind of every single reader. The result:
intrinsically unique versions of each narrative.
Graphic novels give you visual inspiration, while novels give you more freedom to reinvent that world written in front of you.
Does that make one better than the other? You decide. For me, they are different experiences. Pure and simple, they’re alternative ways to consume a story.
Maybe there are stories that benefit more or are more adequate to one specific format than others. Even though I think that the potential in both formats is pretty much interchangeable.
Going back to my personal experience of reading Neil Gaiman’s tales, I like to be able to fabricate the look of the characters, the overall settings—maybe even add my personal details into the mix. However, it’s an enriching experience to devour the illustrations with all their colours and characteristic design traits of each artist. Yes, it’s the artist’s vision, not mine. But isn’t it remarkable how you can be deeply moved by the sheer beauty of a simple panel? Having said that, this can also happen with a plain sentence in the midst of a sea of letters.
So as you can see, I have yet to be converted to only one type of format. Better yet, I don’t want to! I do not want to be confined to one way of consuming stories. Give me freedom to create my own visions, yes, but also share your beautifully crafted ones.
We’re talking about sharing, about experiences, about taking the most out of a story. Milk a novel till it’s dry. Create all you can in your head. But don’t forget the pleaser it is to be guided panel after panel by streaks of colour, insightful lettering and overall awe worth layouts.
There. Novels vs. Graphic novels: you can compare them, you can have a favorite format, but you shouldn’t confine yourself to only one.
P.S.: Check out the previous posts of this series: I Was a Comic Book Fan All Along and Didn’t Know, How OE changed my perception of Comic Books, Diversity of Graphic Novel Genres: From Biographies to Philosophical Essays and Couture & High Fashion in Comics.
When you join the words fashion and comics I’m willing to bet that the result that assaults your head is pretty much the one where superheroes dominate the stories. This means a picture full of glaring colors and capes.
And no, not just the men. Zooming into some feminine characters, what we see is tight Lycra, nearly invisible shorts or skirts, curve fitting leather attire, sparkly bralets and the occasional high heel. It looks comfy and practical to go after or actually being one of the bad girls in this garments, doesn’t it?
Women fashion has been always stereotyped, even when it’s not filtered by fantasy or superhero settings. In narratives passed on the real world we jump from the “off-the-rack” bookworms, to the “funny/graphic t-shirts” geeks and the occasional “hot and preppy” cheerleaders. In other words an over simplified typification. That’s the problem: we’re not talking about types of things, we’re talking about characters that represent people with deep, ever evolving personalities.
But I’m not going to get all fussy about the way women are (sometimes brutally) stereotyped on most comic books. After all, we’re not short of examples (mainly from indie publishers, but nonetheless worthy for that!) of strong idiosyncratic female characters! Hurray for that!
No, I’m going to tell you how happily surprise I was when I found out an example not only of fashion in comics, but of couture: delicate, swoon worthy high fashion.
“Girl in Dior”, by Annie Goetzinger , shows us the creative buzz behind the beginnings of the Dior house of fashion, through the story of new chronicler Clara, rapidly turned model. Following this fictional character leads us deep into Dior’s fashion world. Flowing gowns are flaunt on delicate characters and water colored realistic backgrounds.
We are given a front row seat in Christian Dior’s adventure in high fashion, between 1947 and 1957.
This book alone is reason to bring a whole group of fashionistas to the world of comics. The accurate biography with its beautiful illustrations, allows for a healthy voyeuristic peek into the high fashion universe.
I’m not saying this is the best book ever. But if you know someone who loves fashion and might not be into comics yet, get them a copy. I’ve tried and it worked: a fashion blogger has recently been converted into a comic junkie!
Of course that if you yourself are a fashion addict, odds are you’ve already heard about Goetzinger venture through Vogue or a comic review somewhere else.
This shows the importance of the variety of themes, genres and artwork on graphic novels. There’s one for every subject in our life and they’ll be featured on the right news outlet – even if you have to dig a little bit for an over simplified two-liner piece of news, but hey, it’s better than seeing these works being constantly ignored. Sometimes you just haven’t found the right artist or the narrative that will resonate with you and suck you into the rich universe comic books.
P.S.: Check out the previous posts of this series: I Was a Comic Book Fan All Along and Didn’t Know, How OE changed my perception of Comic Books and Diversity of Graphic Novel Genres: From Biographies to Philosophical Essays.
Over the past few posts I’ve talked about how surprised I was when I discovered the wide range of genres addressed within the comic book format.
From deep psychological thrillers to political essays, passing through (auto)biographies, comics have lend themselves to become nearly factual accounts like any novel. However, the plasticity this medium has to offer allows for strong metaphorical approaches. Our world is visually distorted, real people morph into animal creatures, their actions mirrored by funny or weird/odd/outlandish behaviors.
When talking about political comic books, the first title that comes to mind is “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” by Art Spiegelman. The hard critique enlaced in irony while approaching such a dark and delicate subject is known by its stark crisp visual style and incisive/scathing/sharp narrative. I know it is majorly considered a biographical work, but for me the theme of anti-Semitism prods my bleak political consciousness.
The story sparks a strong emotional response and is an obvious example of the resort to anthropomorphism to highlight the different ethnical groups and how they were treated.
And let’s not forget that Maus was the first graphic novel to be awarded a Pulitzer, in 1992. This achievement is proof of not only the high quality of this specific work but also the powerful reach a graphic novel can have.
Another example that crosses the lines between the political and coming-of-age genres is “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi. As an autobiographical graphic novel, “Persepolis” it has a delves into Satrapi’s childhood and her life as a young adult in Iran. This means dealing with all the political commotion of Iran after the Islamic revolution.
Besides winning multiple awards, like the Angoulême Coup de Coeur Award, in 2001, this narrative was adapted into a 2D animation film with the same name. Satrapi wrote and directed the film. As a movie, it was recognize in multiple festivals which in turn helped solidify the comics recognition as one of the most well-known stories of its format and genre.
There are also a specific themed series like SelfMadeHero’s “Art Masters series“.. So far, you can immerse yourself in Pablo Picasso’s early years with “Pablo“ or explore the creative turmoil of Munch, Rembrandt and Vincent. These graphic biographies use the artists’ unique styles as the visual matrix of each book, so you experience their story not only through the narrative but also by the intrinsic characteristics of the illustrations. Whether you’re an art buff or just curious about one of these characters, these graphic novels are a wonderfully immersive way to delve into these unusual personas’ lives.
Memoirs, (auto)biographies, historic, fiction or in a mix of genres, graphic novels reach us through many different angles. This dynamic format allows us to delve into fantastic superhero filled worlds, but more and more comics offer us the opportunity to explore relevant current subjects of our own very real world.
P.S.: Check out the previous posts of this series: I Was a Comic Book Fan All Along and Didn’t Know and How OE changed my perception of Comic Books.
As I told you on the first article of this new segment, I Was a Comic Book Fan All Along and I Didn’t Know it for quite a while.
Things sort of slowly became clearer during my college days, but it wasn’t until starting to work in the biz that I truly began to dip my toes back in the dynamic comic book waters.
I still remember the moment of opening the folder with all the projects in the pipeline and flying through them all. One of the stories that was more developed at the time was Ithaca. I read it all in one go and was hungry for more.
At Outland Entertainment, I was presented a huge array of creatives each one with a very unique voice, be it as a writer or an illustrator. Mars 2577, Nightfell, Blacklands, Aegisteel, these are all projects that showed me the different facets of comic book creation.
It wasn’t just sci-fi or violence: no, there was room for a multiplicity of genres and visual styles of every kind.
When some of our IPs started coming out as webcomics on a weekly basis, I had to do some market research of what was going on in this field. That led me to multiple webpages like HiveWorks. And there I was baffled by the choice! So many artists, so many genres and styles of writing and artwork.
It was a big turning point: no longer did I had to rely solely on my friends reviews, but I had first-hand overview of so many projects! I got to interview all the creators from O.E., here for the blog. I have always loved the backstage! How someone became who he is professionally? Where did the idea of the story come from? And I was lucky enough to ask all these questions. In return I dare to say that my knowledge of the comic book universe increased exponentially!
And where has that lead me? To a huge appetite for reading more and more comics, of course! It wasn’t instantaneously, but I found myself perusing the comics section of the bookstores not only “out of professional interest” but because I found them inspiring.
This must be obvious for most of you , but before starting at Outland Entertainment, I didn’t know how similar the cinematographic language was to the one used in comics. They remind me of a really fancy and detailed storyboard. I know, I know! They’re much more than that! They’re an artistic medium of their own. But through the eyes of someone who came from an audiovisual production background they really hit home.
I suppose that being a transmedia creative producer also feeds this need. I’m now itching to work up a universe where a comic book will help explore things even further. And if you ever attended a book fair, you’ll see that all of these artistic forms are connected nowadays. Take the London Book Fair, for example. They run the London Book and Screen Week simultaneously. You have professionals from game studios at the actual fair and lots of extra events that join this two worlds, once so further apart, of pages and screens. Comics are finally being increasingly recognized for the dynamic and expressive format they are.
But I’ll talk about these changes further along the line!
Now, take a moment and check out the interviews I mentioned! There are a lot of creatives: authors, illustrators, designers…whose stories will inspire you.
And if you haven’t read the first post of this series give it a go and learn how I Was a Comic Book Fan All Along and Didn’t Know .