In late June we ran an interview with Bradley Kayl, one of the creative geniuses behind THE RED STAR comic book, which at that point had recently wrapped up its association with Image. Soon after the first part with Mr. Kayl (along with a promise to carry a second part with RED STAR’s Christian Gossett) ran, CrossGen’s new publishing line, CG Entertainment, announced that it would begin publishing THE RED STAR starting with issue #10, the beginning of the book’s newest story arc, scheduled for release in November. Well, Christian was kind enough to reply to my questions (as well as some CG Entertainment related questions) this week. Rather than bump the kind Scott Sava, who was already slated for this week’s ORCA Q&A, we’re running the second part of the Red Star interview as part of this week’s column. Again, thanks to both creators for their time and thoughts. Enjoy.
ORCA: Since announcing the business shift (from Image to self-publishing entity Archangel Studios), what has been the overall response from the industry (pros and fans alike)? Have there been any reactions that surprised you?
Gossett: The response has been very favorable, but the real test is the numbers. We’re very, very eager to hear reports of our orders. We’ve got great relationships with a lot of retailers, and they’ve all been really supportive. We’ve been calling retailers in every state of the union to make sure that they’ve heard the news about our new home in the Diamond Catalogue in the Archangel Studios section… on page 219 of the latest Previews (the one with those Power Rangers in Bird Suits on the cover– I mean Poke-Gatcha-mon or whatever the hell that latest monster from the 80’s revival is.)
ORCA: Do you think you have an advantage over some independent creators, given that your message board (VOICE OF THE REVOLUTION) appears to be stocked with a veritable army of hard-working supporters?
Gossett: Our readers, and especially our inner circle of Task Force members (for those of you that don’t know, our message board is also a meeting place for the hardest of the hardcore, these friends and soldiers of Team Red Star lend their support to the survival of our work in all kinds of really creative ways. They go where we can’t possibly get to and perform missions that are vital to us staying afloat.) Our soldiers are so damn cool. They’re one of the vital factors in maintaining the status of our retailer relationships, actually. They’ve been with us from the beginning, and new members are joining all the time, thankfully. It’s always a highlight of our con when one of our soldiers shows up and says Hi. Our friends Phillip Knall and Chris Siddall came all the way from Austria and England respectively to San Diego last year! Our readers rock, but our soldiers rule.
ORCA: What inspired Team Red Star to do its first annual this year?
Gossett: The fact that Makita is one of our favorite characters in-house. Personally, as much as I love all of them, Makita has a special place in my heart. Funny story about Makita, is that she was inspired by Toshiro Mifune’s character from Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’. The scrappy thief who has the nobility of a great warrior in his heart and yet is dressed in rags and steals to live. In fact, when I pitched Lucasfilm about doing a comics version of ‘Seven Samurai’ using Jedi on a remote outer rim planetary system– Makita was one of the characters in the proposal– she would’ve been costumed differently, of course, but the essence of the character was identical. Fortunately for me, even though my good friends at Dark Horse approved the series, the person in charge of Lucasfilm Licensing at the time said No. If they had given me the green light, I wouldn’t have launched Red Star until probably around right now, and Makita would be owned by Lucasfilm. Part of that Seven Jedi proposal was the use of 3D-2D integration, which the same person who ran Lucasfilm Licensing just utterly failed to comprehend, ironically. I should probably dust off that proposal and resubmit it. It was strange working for Lucasfilm Licensing. We’re talking about (at that time) a department of yes-men and yes-women that perceived ‘Star Wars’ as little as a spoon perceives the taste of food. For them, Star Wars was all about the potato-chip bags and Jar-Jar lollipops. I’m from that generation of kids for whom Star Wars meant more than that, and at the same time, the descent of Star Wars from powerful secular myth to empty commercial empire is a great lesson for students of human civilization and modern artistic production at the mass-media level.
So, back to Makita, all of this history helps her symbolize, for me, rebellion and defiance against all resistance. She’s up against entities far more powerful than she, and she just doesn’t give a damn about the odds. She’s going to drive onward toward her goal come death or glory, and we had actually always planned for her origin story to be our first annual. Run Makita Run, the title of the Annual, is really a blast. It’ll be the kind of story that anyone can pick up, even if they don’t know anything about The Red Star, (of course, the more you know the more enjoyment you’ll get– we just love to wink at our hardcore readers and say ‘hi’ from within the story) and it’s the kind of action that… it’s difficult to describe how action-packed this story is. It’s just pure motion and energy. Anyway, I’m gettin’ silly now. Next question? 🙂
ORCA: In 2002 and beyond, do you plan to branch out? Would you consider publishing other creators’ work?
Gossett: We’re about staying on target. Whatever we do is going to fall into two categories: 1. The Red Star. The Red Star. The Red Star. or 2. Small freelance commitments for spending cash. Our primary focus is and will remain The Red Star. If there is a second or third title to come from Archangel, it would be a spinoff in the Red Star universe. As far as examples of the kinds of side gigs we’ll be doing, Brad and I, along with a great new artist named Aaron Horvath are working on a series for Oni Press, a comedy series that will make its debut in this year’s Oni Color Special, but we’re just writing. The commitment is minimal compared to the full routine of publication. As far as working with other creators… well, as much as I’d like to, I actually shouldn’t answer this question right now– what I will say is that, whoever does decide to work with us will be working on The Red Star. The Red Star. The Red Star. 🙂
ORCA: THE RED STAR is obviously an ambitious, in-depth work. When initially plotting it, did you already have the finite end to the series in mind, or do you see no end in sight, merely wanting to allow the characters and their epic story to take you and the other creators wherever it inspires the team?
Gossett: The Red Star continues to grow as much on the fly as it does from what was planned before launch. Which falls in line with the story itself, which takes real history and metaphoric fiction and melds it together as well as we can given our deadlines. 🙂
ORCA: Having watched you interact with fans at conventions twice now (Atlanta Comicon 2001 and 2002), I’m struck at how much you and the rest of the creative team genuinely enjoy the interaction between audience and creators (which is different than the experience some creators give to fans at shows). What is it about cons that still makes it an engaging and rewarding experience for you?
Gossett: Dr. Jo says it best. She works as a Pediatrician by day, working in the Adolescent Medicine Division at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, helping the homeless youth of the Hollywood area. These kids are highest of the high risk for teen pregnancy, gunshot wounds, drug addiction, you name it. After that, she comes home and works on Red Star business stuff until she collapses into bed every night, seven days a week. Now that’s a hard working person, and the life and death decisions she makes every day helps put it in perspective for us. Whenever we get full of angst from missing a deadline or bitter with fatigue from being on planes all night (Team Red Star often has to take The Red Eye flight– quite funny. NOT!) lugging around a couple hundred pounds of luggage, she’s right there to say, “Listen, y’all. You think a comics convention is tough? You got no idea. Try cutting up a dead body for analysis sometime.” After hearing some of her stories (and she’s right, we got no idea) and then seeing how comics professionals put on rock star attitudes, it’s really kind of ridiculous the way a lot of them treat their readers. We are so thankful to be in the position we’re in, and we do not allow ourselves to forget that it’s our readers that keep us working. When we get to meet some of the people who’ve taken up our work and help us continue in this pursuit of our dreams, it’s therefore easy to summon up the joy and gratitude that we do. Snakebite, a veteran of a lot of really physical labor, also has a maxim he likes to use, “At least we ain’t diggin’ ditches!” and he knows what he’s talking about. When it comes down to it, we’re really, really appreciative of what we are able to do and how we are able to live. We share that appreciation with our readers.
ORCA: Given how technologically ambitious a work RED STAR is, coupled with the fact that technology improves every day, are there elements of the early issues that you wish you could redo or improve?
Gossett: In fact, both of our Trade Paperbacks, the first which has almost sold out of its massive initial print run, and the second which will be released in the beginning of August, have improved versions of many of the pages. Snakebite and I get together and do a ‘wish list’ and he goes in and tweaks the color which really makes the Trades quite special. I don’t know if anyone else does that. The new Trade, “The Red Star Volume 2: Nokgorka” has over 70 pages of such retouching.
ORCA: What else can you tell folks about the upcoming TPB which will be released in August? Will there be any bonuses or surprises, which may have not been in the original issue?
Gossett: My favorite addition is ‘The Fifth Chronicle’ pages. These are written as if the characters in The Red Star are already ancient heroes, and tell their tale for the sake of the generations that benefited from their quest– the quest, of course, is made up of the many adventures that make up the series. Sharp readers may have noticed that every so often, a ‘narrative text’ comes in and describes some of the action, and then ends with the signature, “The Fifth Chronicle…”
We begin the second trade with a brief description of what the Five Chronicles are, and used them to establish everything readers don’t know about the War of Nokgorka. It’s a fun way to set the stage, kind of like the rollups before the Star Wars films.
ORCA: How long has the deal with CG been in development and how did the partnership come about?
Gossett: Not long at all. We’ve hung out with the CrossGen gang for years now, but that’s only because they are so damned fun and happy. We’re just as goofy and wacky, so there has always been a kind of unspoken brotherhood and a vast amount of mutual respect between our two companies. We launched within a month of each other back in Y2K, and we’ve both grown up together and observed the industry having made many of the same perceptions about how things might improve. This is an advantage we both have over the old dogs who are struggling to learn our new tricks.
ORCA: Do you think Team Red Star was getting more attention recently at WizWorld Chicago because of the deal with CG?
Gossett: Definitely! We were unanimously congratulated by pros, readers and retailers alike. Members of every facet of the industry were represented and they all sincerely expressed their support for what we had chosen to do. There were also lots of die-hard CrossGen readers who came by and welcomed us and those that hadn’t bothered with us before picked up the entire Red Star run. For some strange reason It’s easy to forget that CrossGen is made up not only of a management team whose level of professionalism comics has never before seen, but that the talent is among the best in the business. Their readers know that, even if they haven’t picked up The Red Star before, that if CrossGen welcomes it into their fold, then they should give it a try as well. As far as the retailers were concerned, the look in their eyes when you mention CrossGen is a bit scary– they’re so fond of the one company that has committed itself to quality and punctuality that their adoration and gratitude is really something to see. A lot of them remarked that in their stores, CrossGen and Red Star are some of their biggest sellers. It was a very joy filled weekend.
Hold the Pickles with that Plotline
I love message boards as evidenced by the number of times I plug various ones on a pretty regular basis. But one drawback I find at some (not all boards—and when I do moderators suggest nicely for the posters to ease up) is posters asking absurd requests of the creators, such as asking that specific obscure characters be used in an upcoming arc just because the poster likes that character. Sure, we’ve all been guilty of making absurd requests when interacting with creators (I’m the guy who only recently asked Mark Waid if he would be using Wyatt Wingfoot in FF, after all), but the level to which some fans go—making requests as if it were easy as ordering a burger at a drive thru window—is a bit juvenile.
Imagine if mainstream fiction writers had to put up with the same input. Here’s a hypothetical post to the John Grisham message board: “Hey John, I think it’d be really cool if you wrote a book where a lawyer went up against Gov. Jesse Venture and they end up in a cage match. And how about making those chapters shorter and with more sex with Carmen Elektra looking folks and less courtroom scenes? I like People’s Court, do you? Dominic Dunne sux, you rock, John. Until Judge Ito Replaces Larry King, Make Mine Grisham!”
I think the next time I see a post along those (granted less absurd) lines at a comics message board, I may very well request the creator give his or her character a mullet. That request will be taken as seriously as the other drive thru comic book creative orders.
Sites to Check Out This Week
I need to do this more often. The Internet is only as fun as you make it, and one easy way to make it more fun is to broaden your area of experience. With this in mind, I’d like to recommend a site or two, periodically. As always, if you have an idea for a column subject, interview, book needing to be reviewed or a great website, just drop me a line at email@example.com
My first plug is a nod to my old TCR collaborator, Doug Smith, (without him my stories would never have seen the light of day, he’s one of the best webmasters I’ve ever encountered). For a number of years Doug has run a fine website that tells you anything and everything about Nova, the character who’s been flying around the Marvel universe since the 1970s. When I mean everything, I mean everything, as evidenced by this photo of the 7-11 Nova Slurpee Cup (it’s the third item in the products list).
After the recent Karl Kesel/Stuart Immonen Fantastic Four 56, which poignantly delved into the Jewish faith of Ben Grimm, I found the following site of great interest. I ran across it thanks to the Librarians’ Index to the Internet (www.lii.org). Every week they release a “best of the week” website list. This week, one of its picks (and now one of mine) is Steven Bergson’s Comics Bibliographies.
A librarian at the Albert and Temmy Latner Jewish Public Library of Toronto, Bergson has utilized his professional skills to collect a vast listing of comics with Jewish characters and/or Jewish themes. It’s educational on several levels, as while I read CAPTAIN AMERICA 237 when it originally came out in 1979, I forgot that Chris Claremont had ever written the book. In fact, the story ranks in my top 10 Cap stories. Here is Bergson’s summary of the story:
“Steve Rogers meets Anna Kapplebaum, a Holocaust survivor. Steve’s face reminds her of superhero Captain America, who saved her and others from being massacred juts prior to the liberation of Diebenwald. She recalls (in flashback) Kristallnacht, the rounding up of Jewish families, the cattle cars, how her parents were beaten to death and how the camp commandant unsuccessfully tried to kill the remaining survivors of the camp shortly before it was liberated.”
Too often 1970s Marvel stories are regarded like a weak era in the history of the characters, this issue debunks that misconception. That being said, don’t check this site out to help rationalize your love of a certain character or a certain era, check it out to possibly expose yourself to stories you otherwise would have never known about.