Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of Establishing Shot! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you share with us about the premise of this collection, as well as its inspiration?
Will O’Mullane: Thank you! Establishing Shot is a collection of short comic book stories, in two-parts. All the stories on one side are meta, full-colour explorations of the comic book medium in a comedic fashion; and then you flip the comic over and on side “b,” there’s black-and-white crime yarns that explore darker themes but with a bit of a looser, acidic bite to them.
I've been working in the traditional publishing and comic book industries for a number of years, and I love talking about projects and titles, but up to that point, I had dabbled in various writing classes and things like that, but I never produced anything of my own.
During 2020, I enrolled in Comics Experience to get feedback on my first short script. The boards were so encouraging; I fell in love with the challenge and brevity of the short form (plus it was very manageable whilst working a 9-5), and before I knew it, I had built up to a bit of a collection of stories that I was happy with, some of which became Establishing Shot.
In terms of inspiration, I purposefully wanted it to feel a little like a playground. To go a little deeper with it - I’m a huge fan of silent films, and of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd slapstick comedy - so most, if not all of these stories, feature some sort of slapstick / action set-piece in them, as a sort-of tip of the hat to the kind of visual humour that I love. The artists I worked with totally got that energy in the scripts, and ran with the idea!
You can see that kind of playfulness in stories like Edison Neo's "SFX in the City," where he documents a runaway onomatopoeia in a comic book city. Or Alfie and Hassan's very fun, silly square up with caption boxes in "Elsewhere in Manhattan", and Lane Lloyd's wonderful deconstruction of a comic book layout in a superhero conflict in "Bulwark Beatdown!!!" But you can also see it in subtler points within the crime stories by Butch, Clark, and Daniel. The feeling of kinetic motion that they - as well as the others in the book - brought was beyond what I had ever dreamed when I originally wrote the scripts.
Jonathan Stevenson: This book has been a long time in the making. I’ve watched Will dedicate himself to learning the craft of writing. He could have been submitting half-arsed scripts to unknown anthologies for years, but instead he went away and learned how to build a story. He read, he attended night classes, he wrote things with no intention of anyone else ever seeing them. He beavered away on his own to finally emerge with something he could be proud of. This anthology may have taken a team to create, but it’s all Will’s vision. He was never going to have taken all that time just to release a run-of-the-mill comic. But I wouldn’t have guessed a double-sided, upside-down, half color, half black and white, half meta format-twisting, half crime anthology. Actually, when I think about it, Will’s a bit of a knob. Him releasing something so original on his first attempt makes me feel targeted.
BD: This project is a collaboration with a Murderers’ Row of comic book talent! How would you describe the process for bringing these creators together, as well as your shared creative process in bringing this collection of stories to life?
WO: When I set on the idea of an anthology, I really wanted to explore a vast array of styles. I was really fortunate to work with some astounding creators - who each brought different, distinct talents to the table - it was important to me that they could tell a coherent story, but also important for them to have the freedom to make it their own. And the dual nature of the anthology (two-sides, meta and crime) is wonderfully encapsulated in Alex Moore’s striking and beautiful double-image cover - which sells the themes of the book so well, and tied it up so succinctly.
Clark Bint: Will was a really chill person to work with, and his script was to the point and followed a clear visual path, which at the time was a real breath of fresh air for me. Books like Killtopia are around 54 pages in one job, so a four-pager was just what I needed. There’s some really good talent in here from great artists, and it’s a real privilege being surrounded by all this talent!
Butch Mapa: Will first contacted me about doing one of the other stories that eventually became part of Establishing Shot, but although that didn't push through, I did see the creativity and unique voice that he already had as a writer. When he offered me "Short Supply," I couldn't say yes fast enough!
Daniel Romero: I imagine that for each visual artist, it's a very intuitive process, like a force or a muse as the classics would say, that as long as it doesn't abandon you, everything will be fine. I read Will’s script, and thought it was comical with serious humor, in Bakuman’s words, a dark ballad. The aesthetics seemed noir. I set out laying out the five pages, before working on the panels themselves. I kept close-ups on the protagonists in the first part to give it this romantic appearance and feeling, and then I opened the panels up from Page 4 with the action. Page 5 was a closing curtain, so it changed the nature of the storytelling, and back to the co-protagonist. I was well acquainted with the script, and I felt that the sequences had a good flow - Will’s an excellent writer, so I didn’t waste time mentally correcting any visual problems that are sometimes projected in scripts. Once I had the layout, the work was done, it became mechanical. So, I sent the pencils and inks. And that's it, everything was very pleasant. In fact, I'm waiting for Will to have another story and want me in his ranks to work together, but he has left me at the altar like a bride, what can I do! Haha.
JS: I don’t know how I came to be helping out on this. Will assembled a fantastic team. I just went along for the ride. I’m very cheap and accept biscuits in lieu of payment. He said he couldn’t pay me in biscuits — something about ethics. Will was great about letting me do what I wanted and then giving his feedback. He always wants input from the people he’s working with. He wants to hear everyone’s ideas. He’s not precious about his work if someone has an idea of how to make it better.
Lane Lloyd: As far as the creative process goes, I remember needing to study a ton of fight scenes from capes comics to try and land the feel of our comic since it was one of the first times I really had to draw a kinetic, hard-hitting scene. I must have drawn and then redrawn all of those punches multiple times to get it just right.
Edison Neo: For the story, the process was pretty simple, it was a mystery that needed a big reveal at the end, so I focused on the random citizens and their reactions to what was going on. It was fun to do a range of expressions - indifference, anger, surprise, confusion etc. - all in a short comic.
BD: In bringing together a creator-owned anthology, were there any particular challenges or surprises about the creative process that surprised you or that provided opportunities for taking the project in an exciting, new direction?
WO: Yeah, some of the stories definitely relied on an element of problem solving. For example, in “Elsewhere in Manhattan!” It was super interesting to see the correspondence back-and-forth between Alfie [Gallagher] and Hassan [Otsmane-Elhaou] on integrating the lettering in with the artwork to make it flow naturally; and seeing how it all came together was such a satisfying experience. Pure magic!
CB: The script had that cheeky 2000AD Future Shock vibe to it, but without the sci-fi, and I let my inks get a little more scratchy and loose, focusing on textures as opposed to line. Black and white is a great way to work - comics get it right where other visual mediums such as film have let this style slip away, which is a shame. Working within limitations is good practice.
The alley/street design was heavily inspired by Will Eisner’s New York: Life in the Big City, and the brevity of the script allowed me to play with how to interpret the sequence as a whole. For instance, the streets are designed and lit like big dramatic monoliths as I love the idea of this intense story with OTT characters occupying only a fraction of this giant metropolis, like rats fighting in garbage. That’s a little example of how I deconstruct the script and play with its elements. I have an addiction to making pages pop as much as possible, but I love doing so!
BM: With any project, the initial challenge is always figuring out what style I'd like to use that would fit what the writer is going for, and what I think I'd like to see as a reader. But I honestly love that stuff, that's when I get cookin' in the lab.
For “Short Supply”, what immediately came to mind was the artwork of Matt Wagner, Bruce Timm, and Darwyn Cooke. That clean, art-deco sort of look. Fortunately, I had used a similar approach to a Star Wars short story I did just a few months earlier. Very lush brushstrokes, stark blacks, liberal use of negative space and screentones. I'm not fit to clean any of these men's pen nibs, but I gave it a shot!
DR: Yes, some parts were challenging. Drawing a subway train was a whole experience - I had never done it before, so I had to reference it well to avoid novice mistakes. Second: There was a sequence with two characters climbing a staircase, which presented a narrative challenge. How to solve it so that it wouldn't be boring to watch? I think I found a solution, but the verdict is not up to me. Third: On page 5, two things were happening simultaneously, making it challenging to convey since the comic relies on ellipses and the action moving from point "A" to point "B" to understand the flow of time; however, making the backpack fall from panel one to the last one was very interesting. Although I insist that whether it worked or not depends on the reader more than on me, and I'm happy about that. There's nothing better than knowing whether what you planned worked or not to improve.
LL: Still being relatively new to comics, and drawing fights that also blew through the panels was a lot to try and tackle. Hopefully, I did a pretty decent job on that.
EN: The main challenge for this was to trick the readers into thinking that the thing flying through the city was some kind of monster or superhero, and pull off the reveal at the end that it was actually an onomatopoeia. So, the build-up to the last page had to have a certain sense of escalation of danger, I suppose. Of course, the next challenge was to get the reveal right with a nice big panel shot. In hindsight, I would have drawn even more debris and damage around the entire area to sell it even more.
BD: Do you have further plans for expanding Establishing Shot to other volumes, focusing on alternate themes or concepts?
WO: I’ve got an idea for another installment, but what shape that takes remains to be seen. I’m still working it all out, but I would always love to explore some of the meta themes a little more, and expand into different styles.
BD: Are there any other projects on which you are working that you would like to share with readers?
WO: I am working on two different creator-owned projects at the moment, which I hope to share more info about very soon! Other than those, I've recently produced a companion for Establishing Shot called Second Chances (and Other Comics), with three short comics concentrated around the theme of "super." The art is by legends Fabian Lelay, Luke Balmer-Kemp, J.R. Harris, and Marco Perugini with Jonathan Stevenson on lettering, so you know you're in for a good time!
CB: Right now, alongside finalising layouts for my own comic project, I’m finishing the inks for the Killtopia finale (out this Summer), and I’m going to be starting interiors for Heavy Metal’s Cyberarchy 4, too. I have a few more things I’ll announce as they happen, but I’m also going to be a guest at Portsmouth Comic Con, as well as an exhibitor at Thought Bubble and LICAF later this year.
BM: Please buy it! And please look me up on Twitter or Instagram to see my upcoming work. I've got a mini-series from Scout coming out called Midnight Western Theatre: Witch Trial, as well as projects from Z2 and Archie!
DR: Actually yes, there is one project, in collaboration with MadCave Studios that I believe is the best thing that has happened in my career so far. It’s a beautiful story, but I am not sure if I am allowed to discuss it just yet. I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished so far with the story, and can’t wait to share it with you next year.
LL: As for what I'm doing now, I have a Kickstarter for a comic called A Flag to Fly. We're about to release a mini series that I did with Dakota Brown and Micah Myers called Grandma Tilly's Hell Tech Mech, and there are various covers with my art being released soon!
EN: I'm working on a new original limited series that will be published later this year by IDW called Family Time, with writer James Asmus and colorist Adam Guzowski, It'll be my first published work with me in the interiors, so keep a lookout on the stands for it!
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Establishing Shot and your other work?
WO: Alongside checking out all the artists on their social media and their incredible work they're doing? You can read some of the stories (and order a copy of Establishing Shot and other comics I’ve worked on), here.
Alfie Gallagher (EarthWorks):
Lane Lloyd (God-Puncher):
Edison Neo (No Brainer):
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (Red Sonja, PanelxPanel):
Jonathan Stevenson (Doctor Who, Disconauts):
Daniel Romero (When the Blood Has Dried):
Clark Bint (Killtopia):
Butch Mapa (Star Wars, Avengers):
Alex Moore (DEATH DROP DRAG ASSASSIN):