Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your comic book, Rebirth of the Gangster #7! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the series’ premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
CJ Standal: Thanks for your support, and I’m so excited we’re starting the second story arc!
The series’ premise in short tagline form (____ meets ___) is that Rebirth of the Gangster is The Wire meets Breaking Bad meets Brubaker and Phillips’ Criminal.
The longer, more specific premise:
Six men and women think they're strangers to each other. They come from different classes, races, faiths, sexual orientations, and more. But they share more than they think. Secrets tie them together, including a decades-old murder; a hatred of PC culture and image-obsession runs through them; and each one shoulders their own personal burden rooted in family legacies. But the most important thing they all share: a revenge scheme that shines light into the dark secrets of their pasts.
What inspired me to tell this story:
Recently, our country has seen deep divides across political groups, socio-economic classes, religious groups, racial/ethnic groups, sexual orientation, and many more. We’ve come to a point where we don’t even view someone on the other side as a person; we see them as an abstraction to be angry at, an abstraction that isn’t harmed when we dehumanize them and their perspective.
And I’m not trying to say that I never do this--especially in last year’s presidential election, I felt myself slipping into that harmful mindset, alienating some co-workers and others in my life. So a big part of my desire to tell the story stems from our tendency to view people as an abstract thing we will always disagree with and hate instead of a complex human that connects with us on some of our core philosophies. Somewhat connected to this, I want to pose (and start answering) the question: Can we redeem ourselves from bad behavior? Can we redeem ourselves from these divisions?
Rebirth of the Gangster focuses on many different characters from different walks of life, aiming to make each of them empathetic, despite the fact that they disagree on many things. I don’t ignore differences and divisions in the story, but I balance those with similarities and connections.
To narrow this down to a more personal, and less national/global level, there are a few personal reasons I wanted to touch on these divisions. I come from a family that was not supportive of my older brother being gay when he came out in college; they are more supportive now, but often in the way that is more like “I’ll tolerate you, but I don’t understand and empathize with you”. My younger brother married a woman from a different race as us, which also led to some backlash and eventual shallow acceptance.
My family is very religious, something I’m not, which has led to a divide in our life perspectives and political orientations. My parents are divorced--my dad is very well off financially and my mom is a teacher, doing better than many teachers, yes, but still not in the same income bracket as my dad--so I’ve seen how those different resources and classes can affect life (not that those lives only have differences, of course).
And perhaps just as powerfully personal, I teach in an increasingly diverse school and have seen first-hand the deep divisions, lack of empathy, and stereotyping that happens when we view others as other, as an abstract instead of viewing them as someone kind of like us, someone human: full of virtue and vice.
These are all of the high-minded reasons I wanted to tell this story, but I don’t only have high art in mind for this story and as its inspirations. I love both high and low art: I read superhero comics sometimes and can jump into a serious, deep graphic novel like Alone by Chaboute. I love genre entertainment, and I love the classics, the slice-of-life stuff. And lately, the work I’ve been consuming most centers around mysteries, thrillers, noir, neo-noir, and crime.
In high school I got hooked by Azzarello and Risso’s 100 Bullets (my artist, Juan Romera, planted an easter egg to show our love of this crime classic in the first story arc). In college, I waited eagerly for every Sunday’s fix of The Wire, a fix only matched by the weekly Wednesday fix at my local comic store, Criminal stealing it’s way into my heart as one of my drugs of choice. Post-college I was amazed by Breaking Bad, a show that balances high and low art in a truly engaging and thought-provoking way.
So, even though I want to touch on the nature and meaning of life in Rebirth of the Gangster, I also just want to write an exciting, suspenseful yarn that makes the reader come back for the twists in turns in plot and characters, so enthralled in it as a piece of entertainment that the themes subtly seep into their thinking.
BD: Given that Issue #7 will begin a new arc for the series, what can readers anticipate from the new arc, and do you feel that this serves as a solid jumping-on point for new readers?
CJS: This arc is a great jumping on point for new readers, partly because it’s going to move a lot faster than the first one. It will move faster in character growth and character regression, but probably the thing most of your readers will like to hear is that it will move faster in action: I have a car chase planned for the middle of the story arc, blackmail, murder, and more! The first story arc set up a lot of exposition, so it had to move slower, but now that we’ve laid that foundation, Juan and I are free to put the pedal to the floor.
Another reason it’s a good jumping-on-point (although it’d be better if you read and purchased the first story arc in its graphic novel form of course!) is because each issue focuses on a pivotal moment in one of the main characters’ journey: we focus on this in a way that sets up the conflict--subtly, not with in-your-face-exposition--making it easy for a newer reader to be caught up with the older readers on what matters most for that chapter of the story. Connected to this, we sometimes use flashbacks and other visual clues to reveal necessary past information for new readers (and to remind old readers of that information).
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in working with artist Juan Romera?
CJS: Juan is a great collaborator: he’s always positive; he’s always committed to quality over shortcuts; and most importantly, he adds new dimensions and details that weren’t something I envisioned. These new additions and tweaks always improve my script.
Since Juan lives in Argentina, and I live in WI, we don’t communicate face to face; we do all of our communication over email chains. Essentially, I send him a full script, he sends me layouts to look over and suggest changes (I’ve suggested maybe 5 changes over the course of 7 issues), he finishes the pages, and then I letter them, often removing large chunks of dialogue, since his drawings already convey in a much more effective way what that dialogue would’ve said.
As we’ve worked more and more together, we’ve established some shorthand methods of communication, and I have learned to be more flexible to his contribution, more open to his voice. Each script I write becomes more streamlined: at first I shortened panel descriptions, trusting him to have a better frame/angle/approach, approaches I would’ve suggested much more in the past. I also used to insert a small layout drawing in the script, but I’ve since stopped doing that, knowing that he’ll come up with a more dynamic and clear layout than I would have.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
CJS: I’ve mentioned a lot of what I hope readers will take away from my work when talking about the need to form more connections and treat each other more humanely. I also hope they just get entertained, that they get a break from the constant fear and anxiety permeating our culture.
And the last thing I’d like readers to take away, to be inspired to know and hopefully do:
I’m just an English teacher self-publishing this comic, making my dream come true. This is something anyone can do, as long as they put in the right amount of work and research. And aside from the work I put into my relationship with my long-term girlfriend, it’s been the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done.
I don’t have any professional experience, but I’ve done a lot to prepare myself for being a high-quality publisher. I’ve read a lot of comics; I’ve read a lot of articles and books, watched videos and listened to plenty of podcasts that discuss the creative process and the marketing process; I’ve connected with other creators and crowdfunders--any one of your readers could do the same thing. If you have a story to tell, don’t wait for some gatekeeper to open the gate for you: find your own door and knock that barrier down!
BD: A segment of Rebirth of the Gangster #3 will also be appearing in Alterna Comics' 2017 IF Anthology. What spurred this collaboration, and what can you share about your work with Alterna?
CJS: Although I like the complete control I have over my work as a self-publisher, every few months I look for a publisher interested in publishing excerpts of my comic or taking over the series for the rest of the run. In one of my scouting sessions, I started with Alterna, because a friend of mine mentioned that he knew someone who was published by them after initially being self-published.
When I landed on their site, I saw that Alterna was accepting submissions for an anthology focusing on crime stories. It seemed like fate, kismet, serendipity, or just plain luck. I instantly went back to issue 3 of the series and deleted some scenes to make it more self-contained, a move that I thought would improve the chances of it being accepted for the anthology and hooking new readers. Aside from that change, I only had to change some of the lettering size and resize the art files for their format: they print it in a smaller format than I publish my graphic novel in, so we had to make adjustments to better thrive in that format.
Although that was more work, I’m excited to see it in a more compact format that looks more like a book and less like a graphic novel. It’s one of the many things Alterna is doing to diminish the stigma of comics and their separation from other marketplace outside of the Direct Market. I think it helps them widen the audience of comic readers, so I’m glad I could do my part offering that olive branch.
BD: If given the opportunity to expand your series into other entertainment mediums, in what format do you hope to see it adapted?
CJS: I would love to see it adapted as an anthology-style TV show. My series has four story arcs that I think would work best as one season of a show, but I know that branding and marketplace concerns limit the appeal of a mini-series/one season show.
With that in mind, I like the anthology approach because it lets the show stay faithful to the scope of my graphic novel, it lets the show be more marketable and because it opens up one other exciting possibility: the chance to adapt other great comic series. I’ve mentioned my love for Criminal and I also love Darwyn Cooke’s Parker series, so in my dream world those would be the next two seasons (if that great actor Tom Hardy wasn’t already involved in 100 Bullets, that could be a few seasons of our anthology show).
However, it also might just as exciting, effective, and more realistic to look for independent comics to adapt for future seasons; being an underdog myself, I would love to reach out a hand and help others pull themselves up from that situation.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
CJS: I’m in the very early stages of two new graphic novels, which would be released as self-contained graphic novels (no individual issues, no series of graphic novels).
One is titled Mapping Mythland and combines my love of fantasy books with the past few years (ups and downs) of my relationship with my girlfriend. It would be a little different stylistically in that there would be excerpts from a fantasy series these two romantic interests read and bond over, and the story proper would look like a traditional narrative-less comic. I look to experiment with different genres, characters, and story-telling styles, so this would be a nice departure from the rules and guidelines I set up for how I should tell Rebirth of the Gangster.
Another departure would be for the sci-fi/horror comic I’m working on titled The Others Behind the Wall, the first graphic novel I’d like to write with first-person narration. The title indicates a return to political/societal returns, but it still would be blended with an action-packed, suspenseful story.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Rebirth of the Gangster?
CJS: The best way to purchase my series would be to go to Amazon with this link.
I am working on getting the graphic novel into bookstores, but that process takes a while (a few months at the least). Fortunately, the IF Anthology is carried by Barnes and Noble, so I do have a little of my work in bookstores.
The best way to find out information on my series and me as a writer and publisher is to go to cjstandalproductions.com.
Other great ways to find out information on the series and me would be to follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter.
Facebook: CJ Standal