Fanbase Press Interviews Eric M. Esquivel on His Latest Comic Book, ‘Gregory Graves’

Starburns Industries, best known for being the animation studio that created Rick and Morty, recently announced that they were starting a comic book label. One of the first titles to be released through the company is Gregory Graves, and with us here today is co-writer and co-creator Eric Esquivel! Eric has an amazing history in the comic book industry, with credits from DC Comics, Archie, IDW Publishing, and many more. The following is an interview with Esquivel conducted by Fanbase Press Contributor Russ Pirozek about his partnership with acclaimed writer and creator Dan Harmon, his love of Superman, and more!



Russ Pirozek, Fanbase Press Contributor: It's been documented elsewhere, but for those who don't know, how did you get involved with Starburns Industry Press and Dan Harmon?

Eric Esquivel: Dan is kind of the reason I moved to Los Angeles, years ago. I love his podcast, HarmonTown, and before that, his show Community, and SCUD, the comic book he wrote with Rob Schrab. I was a huge fan of SCUD. So, the first thing I did when I came to Los Angeles was go to the Harmontown podcast, and I always sat in the first or second row, and on one of the episodes he was talking about his hatred for Superman and his love for Lex Luthor. And I hadn't met Dan yet, but I was vibrating with hatred, and like glowing in the dark, it was so obvious that I was upset by what he was saying. I wasn't calling out or anything, but he could sense it and he saw me. And he laughed and called me up on stage, and we wound up arguing for like the whole podcast, and about how much I love Superman and what I think he represents.  

The argument kind of kept going after the podcast. We traded emails and emailed back and forth about it. Eventually, I had a meeting at Starburns just to talk about Superman, and he knew that I worked in comics, and I guess after the argument he read a little bit of my stuff, and we talked about what we would do if we had full control of the characters. We had, like, three meetings where would just pound Mountain Dew and Taco Bell and talk about Lex Luthor and it was really fun. Eventually, we had this pretty solid structure of a pitch of what we would do with Lex. I called my guys at DC Comics, and we went and pitched it to Bob Haras, the publisher, and the whole Superman team was there - all of the editors. They liked it in the room, but, you know, as things are, DC is so well-oiled that they had Lex stories already in the pipeline. This is before he joined the Justice League, so they already had plans for the character that we equally awesome.

So, they said no, because Geoff Johns was already working on Lex. We decided to just kind of file off the serial numbers and do it anyway, and fans of Rick and Morty know that it's actually a Back to the Future cartoon, just with the names changed from Doc and Marty to Rick and Morty. So, it's kind of Dan and me doing the same with the names and some facts switched around, but it came from our love of comics and our love of superhero comics and Superman, in general.

RP: I remember reading something where it was either Dan or [Rick and Morty co-creator Justin] Roiland talking about how the Channel 101 stuff was just called Doc and Mharty, and that they got a cease and desist, and they just said “screw it” and changed the names and did some weird stuff, and then Rick and Morty was born.

EE: I'm also a big fan of – do you know Adi Shankar? So, that producer, he did that bootleg Power Rangers film and he did that bootleg Venom: Truth in Journalism and that Punisher – he's really great.  He actually hired the guy who played the Punisher, Tom Jane, to play the Punisher again.

RP: Oh, yeah. Because Tom Jane really wants to play the Punisher again.

EE:  Yeah, yeah. So, I like that when people treat these modern myths as public domain, even though they're not, I think that's really fun. They kind of belong to culture. So, me and Dan kind of reclaiming Superman from Warner Bros., this giant corporate entity – because it feels like a folk tale, because as an American, Superman feels like he belongs as much to us as like, Johnny Appleseed or Paul Bunyan, so it feels like kind of an American folk tale, and we're treating him thusly.

RP: That's amazing. You've talked a lot about Superman, and your love of Superman. Can you go a little bit deeper into your love of that character and why?

EE: Sure. I guess, when I was a kid, I grew up without a father figure in the house, and without any men, really, above the age of eight [laughs] that I could talk to, so comics to me were kind of my manual of how to be a man. All these titles had “Man” in them. You know, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, so I looked at those for clues as to what masculinity was. So all the moral I have kind of come from superhero comics. So I don't eat animals because Aquaman didn't when I was a kid, I don't drink because Superman didn't when I was a kid, I try to mentor people who were younger than me and in the same spot I was when I was a kid like Batman did. All those characters are really important to me, and I feel it's kind of my duty to keep comics and superhero comics going for the next young Eric out there. And this story is very much in line with that.

It's not a superhero book because it follows a Lex Luthor-type character, but it still talks about what a man is, what a man's role is in the world, and what the responsibility of a man is. It's a story about modern masculinity.

RP: It's really cool to get the perspective of the kind of person who's the antagonist of the superhero or the kind of person who's more thinking, “Oh, well there's that guy over there flying around and doing stuff.”

EE: Yeah, it's very much a story about a guy who was raised by an abusive, erratic, alcoholic father in the Gregory Graves character. So, he learned not to just trust in powerful men's benevolence. You know, like “If Daddy's happy you don't get hit,” and “If Dad's unhappy you get hit” but it changes on a dime, so he doesn't think it's appropriate to live like an abused eight-year-old as an adult or as a society, so he wants checks and balances. And his whole thing is that he's trying to destroy our cult of hero worship and our cult of celebrity, things that we see give rise to tyrants and terrible people, and he wants to get rid of that and kind of make it socialist. He's like half Bernie Sanders and half Lex Luthor, basically.

RP: That's... an interesting combination.

EE: For sure. Because in his mind, if there's a Green Lantern-type character in the world, then why aren't we using that ring to restart the space program? If there's a guy who can change the direction of mighty rivers, why isn't he using that power to create dams and solving global warming? He thinks these guys are more in it for their ego and they think very small, and it should be more like a hive mind to tell them what to do. These guys have power that are bigger than one man, and they should serve culture They should be proud to serve a collective instead of just their own wills. So he wants to control all the heroes, which is inherently evil.

RP: And egotistical.

EE: But it's in the service of good and it's democratic. He doesn't want to be the only one, he just wants checks and balances so he can sleep at night.

RP: That's fair. I think that's a lot of the things that was almost a fatal flaw with superhero comics. It's like, “Here's a guy who can do all the things, but he might, he might not. And we only have their word to go off.”

EE: They're very American in one regard, because they're very about the individual. But they're very anti-American because it's one powerful man controlling the destiny of thousands or millions. And that's kind of against the values of the country and why I like America, and the reason that when you say “truth, justice and the American way”, that's what that means to me, all of us working together. That's why I liked – well, they took the A out of it – but the Justice League of America. It's a very American story, Gregory Graves.

RP: That's  a really interesting perspective. Changing topics, I've read a very interviews with you and you've been very effusive about your creative team. They're obviously phenomenal. Did you have any influence of who joined the team, or was that more of a Starburns editorial decision?

EE: Well, I picked our cover guy, for sure. Phillip Bond is my favorite artist of all-time. He was my first go-to for Starburns. I basically begged them. You'll know him from Tank Girl and The Invisibles and Kill Your Boyfriend. He does great action stuff, and there's inherent humor in it. And that's what this book does. It's been my dream to work with him, so that was very exciting. And Brent Schoonover, I was a fan of, but I didn't know him. So, our editor, Brendan Wright, actually contacted him, which was great. Because one thing Dan and I don't want to do is talk down on superheroes or the genre, because we both love superheroes. So, we didn't want to have something like a Mad magazine-style artist who would make fun of it.

RP: Yeah, you don't want to parody it.

EE: Yes! That's the word I was looking for. We're not above it, at all, we're not looking down on it at all. So, we got a real superhero guy. Brent's done stuff like The Punisher, Ant-Man, Deadpool, Batman '66, and The Adventures of Superman, so having him here gave us street cred [laughs] with the superhero crowd.

RP: That's amazing. It's really good to see such a great collection of artists on something like this. And you guys are releasing this for Free Comic Book Day?

EE: Yeah, yeah. Gregory Graves is going to be a series of Original Graphic Novels, like one-shot volumes. And that's, from my understanding, is what Starburns is interested in doing. They want to create these complete packages, these full stories and getting them out.

RP: Basically skipping the singles and going straight to the trades.

EE: At least for our book, yeah. I can't speak for anybody else's stuff. So, basically, Starburns Presents #1-- which will be available on Free Comic Book Day-- contains a good chunk of the first act of Gregory Graves Volume One. But that's just half of the issue. The other half is the first issue of this new series called Comic's Comics, which has a bunch of comedians writing comics for the first time. Patton Oswalt is writing that one. So, Starburns Presents #1 features the writing talents of Patton Oswalt, Dan Harmon, and me. So, obviously, I'm the heavy hitter.

RP: Well, of course.

EE: [laughs] I mean, who's ever heard of Patton Oswalt or Dan Harmon?

RP: No, nobody knows them. [laughs]

EE: Yeah, should be fun.

RP: Are you expecting to just do a one-shot, or are you working towards that bigger package?

EE: We're already knee-deep in volume two. Each volume of Gregory Graves is going to deconstruct and rebuild an old superhero archetype. So, our first one is very clearly a Superman-type guy, in the same way that Invincible or Sentry.

RP: Sentry is always the one that comes to mind. He's basically “what if Superman, but crazy?”

EE: Yeah, so it's that kind of guy. And then our second one deals with the urban vigilante.

RP: More of the Batman type?

EE: Batman, Daredevil, Green Arrow, Punisher. The sort of gritty, '90s, trenchcoat, kind of unshaven creeper guy. And every volume will deal with one of those. And it's great that our first volume is a Superman type, and that the second one will be more of a Marvel-type guy. So, we can play with all the different universes.

RP: When you and Dan collaborate, what is that process like? Is it just you guys talking in a room and then you write the script?

EE: We have several, hours-long meetings at Starburns where we talk about character in general, and then we narrow down on our story, and that's very exciting for me as a Harmon fan.

RP: Did you do Harmon's famed Story Circle with him?

EE: Yeah, our first meeting was at the Rick and Morty writer's room and then the other ones were in – they have a bar at Starburns, I think it's called the Star Bar. [laughs]

RP:  I think that's the most obvious thing I've heard about something at Starburns.

EE:  And it's cool, because they have puppets from the Community Christmas Special and stuff, and as a big Harmon nerd, it's really cool to just sit around talk. And then I write a full script, and then I give it to Dan, who just makes it infinitely better. And Dan and I kind of just pick a character. I love Superman, so our character, Luminary, is like 98% my voice. And our antagonist, Gregory Graves, is like 98% Dan's voice. So, it's kind of like doing improv in the room, what they would say and what they would do.

Because I feel like I have an authority over Luminary, and he feels like he has an authority over Gregory Graves. So, it feels a lot like an improv thing that I transcribe later. Dan and I both play Dungeons & Dragons, and it feels a lot like roleplaying characters, with the story as the DM. It's really fun. I've never worked with a co-writer before. I've worked on tons of comics for like fifteen years, but I've always been the single guy on it.  So, it's weird doing like a TV-style writer's room. It's fun. And Dan's one of the best guys in the world to do that kind of thing with.

RP: That's great, because that kind of thing can either go really well, which it sounds like it did, or really poorly.

EE: And I was afraid that I was just going to be a nerd, but I'm a working professional writer, so I felt like I could kind of --

RP: Turn the fandom off a little bit?

EE: Yeah, have confidence and authority in that realm, and the minute we stop writing, I just go, “Oh my God, you're so cool. I love SCUD.” [laughs]

RP: What other projects are you working on?

EE: So, there's another Starburns book that I'm working on, called Court Dracula, like Courtney Dracula, and she's Count Dracula's daughter, and it's a goth-style book in the vein of Jhonen Vasquez. It's like Lenore or Invader ZIM, that kind of thing. And that's really fun. I also have an unannounced project with Vertigo coming out this year, and an unannounced DC superhero short.

RP: You're obviously very busy doing great work, so where can people find you and your previous work?

EE: Well, you can find me on everything  at my name, Eric Esquivel. You can search ComiXology and Amazon, there's a page for me on there. I'm also on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and all that at Eric M. Esquivel.

RP: Very cool. Anything else you want to say to those interested in Gregory Graves?

EE: Sure, I'm just very excited. The first book is free, and this is the first issue of a brand new comic company. So, if you want to see new, unique comics, tell your local retailer. The first issue is free, so if you tell them you want it, it doesn't cost you anything. By asking, it means that people have heard of our company and this book. We all win that way, there's no reason not to do it. Final order cut-off is January 24th, so you have until then to ask your retailer to hold you a copy of Starburns Presents. Please let them know.

RP: That's fantastic. Thanks for sitting down to talk to us!

EE: Thank you.

We really appreciate Eric for taking the time to talk to Fanbase Press about the new comic book. He's a great guy and a brilliant writer, so be sure to check out Staburns Presents at this year's Free Comic Book Day and be on the look out Gregory Graves when it hits stores.

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