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Between the Panels: Editor/Writer Sebastian Girner on Identifying Opportunities, Comics’ Best Writer, and the Life of an Editor-in-Chief

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

Looking in from the outside, one might sense a carefully laid plan behind Sebastian Girner’s career trajectory: a balance between editorial and writing, between corporate and DIY comics.  But he’ll be the first to admit there was, in fact, no grand plan, rather that a well-traveled kid benefited from a lot of luck—and a little bit of outside help—to be in positions where he could show over and over again what he’s capable of.

First off, the basics…

Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Editor/Writer

Your home base: Brooklyn, NY
Social Media
Instagram: @Sgirner
Twitter: @Sgirner

Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: Why comics? What is it about this medium that makes you want to work in it?

Sebastian Girner: Comics have always been an integral part of my life in terms of the kinds of stories I enjoy, the kinds of characters I enjoy reading about. Throughout my life they were always a way out for me, for getting out of my own life, getting into different situations. Learning about the world through comics, learning about writers, and then following those writers. I’ve taken steps away from comics throughout my life and I always found my way back to them — it’s almost like all roads lead to them. Given the opportunity, when I graduated from university, to work as an editor for Marvel — assistant editor at the time — I didn’t think that it would be a career. I thought it would be something I should do given the opportunity. Here I was being offered a job and had other things that I was thinking about doing, but then I just kind of got stuck in it.

And despite the fact that comics are a harsh mistress sometimes, I’m still not at the point where I’m ready to leave. I mean, everyone who works in comics thinks about leaving them professionally at least once a day. [laughter] But I’ve started thinking about the process more than the outcome, which is something that’s been helping me a lot, to focus on the work and process of collaborating with so many creators and writers and artists, and getting to do this every day. As long as it’s something that brings me joy and allows me to live the life that I’ve made for myself and my family, I feel very fortunate to be able to have done that. At the same time, knowing that if I ever decide to carve a different career path, comics will still always be there for me in the way that they matter the most — as an outlet of creative drive, story ideas, and a kind of conduit to a community of creators all throughout the world that is incredibly welcoming and nurturing to be a part of.

KS: To go back to the very beginning, where did you grow up?

SG: I was born in Germany, in a town called Koblenz, but my family moved to America when I was three — this is 1985 — to New York. There was a German school that I went to when I was three, four. I think my dad must have spoken a little English, but we were all a little “tossed into the deep end.” I was the youngest of three children, and [my parents] were concerned that I wouldn’t grow up with a sense of English, so they made stuff available to me to read as early as possible, to get a connection to English. At the time, this was still the newspaper to get the Sunday funnies, the daily strips. Those were a big way into comics for me.

BTP SG Bear 896

KS: What did your early reading diet look like?

SG: Calvin and Hobbes, which still remains one of the greatest pieces of comic art — or art in general. But I also wanted to continue my German, so I would also read German comics. When my father would return to Germany, I would get Tintin and Asterix and Obelix and a lot of these Franco-Belgian kind of classics translated into German. I grew up in between two comic book cultures — I’d get the Marvel and DC superhero stuff of the early ’80s and ’90s, then I would get the more European fare, which [was] quite different. Then when I was 13 years old, we moved again from America back to Germany. At that point I once again had to rediscover comics that were available to me in Germany at the time. Now we’re in the mid ’90s. Manga was just starting to spill over from France into Germany. So, we’d have those translations coming in hard and fast. Dragonball I remember was one everyone read, that was like a crossover hit.

KS: Did you respond to manga the same way you had the earlier material?

SG: For one second in high school, everyone read manga and I got stuck with it. I found my way back to these comic book stores that would import American comics; Vertigo comics were kind of the big thing at that point in my life. Being introduced to manga, I ended up studying Japanese, kind of following my passions down that rabbit hole, lived in Japan for a year as a student, indulged very heavily in manga and my love of all things comics there. By the time I graduated from university, I had kind of gone through three larger comic book cultures and had several years to kind of indulge in them — America, Europe, and Japan.

KS: With all those relocations, were you able to actually collect any titles or were you stuck just buying whatever you could find at a given time?

SG: A lot of this is down to happenstance. I remember reading Calvin and Hobbes in the funnies, and then I would get the collections for Christmas or my birthday, you know, those great collections. That was the first time that I could read them in sequence, ‘cause you would sometimes miss a day or maybe the newspaper would get rained on. It’s crazy to think now that everything is at your fingertips. But the hunt for the next piece of the narrative was actually always a part of the experience.

My dad worked in Manhattan, and at the time comics were still being sold at the newsstand. Again, this is, like, late ’80s, very early ’90s. He would go to the newsstand because he knew I liked comics, but the guys wouldn’t have a stack of fresh Marvel, they would literally sell ’em by the pound. [laughter] It’d be a pound of comics for $5. Once a month, my dad would bring me a stack of however many comics; sometimes, he’d get lucky and it would be some really good Marvel stuff. That’s when I discovered Spider-Man, and that was definitely the first comic that I sought out myself. I would have an allowance. I think comics were $1.25 at the time for a single floppy. I believe my allowance was something like $5, so I was able to afford four comics, and I purchased the four Spider-Man monthlies that were out at the time — Amazing Spider-Man, Web of Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, and just Spider-Man.

KS: Was there any sense of continuity to what you were reading?

SG: I did the thing where I didn’t know you were supposed to read just the one magazine — I thought these were all one big story. And I would read them through and I’d be like, “This Mark Bagley story has nothing to do with the Sal Buscema story,” because they were in different magazines. But you didn’t have the fandom community right at your fingertips, it was just kind of me figuring all this stuff out. The only characters that I knew existed outside of Spider-Man were the ones that were guest stars. So, when “Maximum Carnage” happened, that was the first Marvel comic event that I remember. I was very confused, like, “I don’t know who anyone is.” The first time I see Captain America [is] when appears at the end of one of the “Maximum Carnage” issues. That’s kind of when I took steps towards following the rabbit hole. I actually went to my first real comic store, found some back issues, started piecing [things] together.

KS: Do you remember what store that was?

SG: I don’t. This is in Rye Brook, New York. There was a small shopping center by a Food Emporium; there was a barber and then there was a newsstand where they had a spinner rack. When I went to get my hair cut, I would go next door and buy some comics. I’m 10, 12 years old here. I fell out of that, moved back to Germany, kind of completely went out of comics. Went into video games and stuff like that. Then at one point, I remember the long way back into comics was, I read a video game review. I forget the game; it was Lovecraftian and the tagline was, “H.P. Lovecraft would be proud.” Because I liked that game, I bought a book of his. Neil Gaman had written the introduction to that collection, so I followed up on Neil Gaiman and read Sandman. Then, right next to Sandman on the rack was Preacher, which was my first Garth Ennis comic.

KS: That’s quite a dramatic one-two punch re-introduction to the medium.

SG: Those two brought me back into comics in a big way, because now I was in high school in Germany. I had a lot more time, a little more income from [jobs]. That’s when I started reading comics very seriously again. I would read the trade paperbacks, and I had a couple of really good comic book stores in Cologne, which is the city that I went back to. I got into the PREVIEWS magazine and started reading Batman at that point. That was kind of the best time, just really indulging and absorbing the media into myself.

KS: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums.  What was one story that really had an impact on you back in this time of discovery? It can be a single issue, a storyline, however you want to approach it.

SG: I think Calvin and Hobbes again had a character that really spoke to me. As a kid, you’re not aware of this, but thinking back now as an adult, that time of being transplanted from a country that I understood [when] I was three, you’re kind of a blank page at that point. The way in which Calvin is an incredibly isolated individual where he understands the world purely through this fiction of Hobbes is so real to him and is something else to other people. It’s never like, “Oh, he’s a fantasy, it’s all just in his head.” It’s that he, Calvin, creates a world around him, creates hundreds of worlds around him, and I think that that spoke to me. Same as Calvin, there was a big wooded area in our backyard, and I would traipse around in there. Having an understanding of what an oddball he is and feeling like an oddball myself — I got picked on in kindergarten cause I couldn’t speak English — it’s a story that allowed me to find some kind of an anchor where I’m like, “This character is like me,” so I felt less alone. Again, this is something that I only understood later in life. I also loved The Far Side, for example, but that comic didn’t have the effect on me that Calvin and Hobbes did because I didn’t see myself in [it].

Garth Ennis is, for my money, pound for pound, the best writer we’ve ever had. I think that he would disagree with that, but that’s every writer’s prerogative. As outlandish and weird and darkly humorous as he tends to be, I find that he never forgets about the characters. He can be wild and wacky and insane, but he’s never cruel. Even the bleakest of his stories retain value in human life. I love Preacher, but I hate all the characters in Preacher. It’s such wonderful writing and the characters are so real and so alive, that he doesn’t do the thing where I have to love these characters like Jesse Custer and Cassidy. I kind of followed Garth through his career and I started reading Hellblazer and that was another character that I really enjoyed just because it was so unexpected what you would get to read — every writer would have a different interpretation of him. Every time he does magic, his friends pay the price for it, which, as a slightly edgy teen struggling with the things that teens struggle with, felt very real to me. If I had to read one comic writer’s work for the rest of my life, it would probably be Garth’s.

BTP SG Red de7

KS: Roughly where along this timeline did you first start having thoughts of a creative career for yourself?

SG: Uh, never. [laughter]

KS: Wait, did you dabble in writing before coming to it professionally?

SG: I very much loved to draw and to scribble and to doodle. In retrospect, I wish I had continued to do it. I was always interested in creating stuff. I was also someone cursed with crippling self-doubt — nothing that could ever come from me would be worth even putting down. I wrote a zombie short story once, which was the only thing I’d ever written. I think I was 13 or 14. It wasn’t until I left Marvel — I’m 32 at that point, so there’s almost a 20-year gap [before] picking up the pen to write again. So, no, I never thought I would have a creative career. I applied for a job at Marvel ‘cause I applied to a lot of places for a lot of different jobs, and I ended up liking the job. Not so much the circumstances under which I was doing it, but it was the first time in my life that I really felt like something that could come from me, could be worth exploring. When I left Marvel after four years and was once again flung to the wind, that was a time when I was re-exploring my relationship to creating comics. I still really loved comics. I loved making them, I knew how to make them now. That’s when I started getting to the idea of writing them myself.

KS: How did that idea evolve as you went forward?

SG: I just turned 40 and now I feel like I’m at a point where I really want to write comics for the rest of my life, if not professionally, then just as a means of expressing and creating art and seeking that collaboration. What’s interesting for me with my relationship with comics is that I always used them as the arena to figure my own life out. There’s always stages in my life where comics were there for me. Not that I always found the right comic to read that told me something, but they were always kind of there for me to crack open and either wrestle with something or almost meditate on something, and then change over time as you do. That sounds very grandiose, but I genuinely feel like that’s what artwork is there to do. And comics are nothing but art.

KS: I wanted to ask you about starting out at Marvel, which for many people would be considered the summit for a comics gig. You didn’t come in as an intern, you applied for a regular job. Were you thinking, “I want to work in comics specifically” or “This is a role that sounds interesting and it just happens to be at a comics publisher?”

SG: I had a quasi “in” —  my sister went to university in America [and] she introduced me to an editor at Vertigo at the time, Pornsak Pichetshote, who is now also a comic book writer. The Good Asian, Eisner Award winner. He was at Vertigo right around that peak time. I remember being in New York once and he invited me up to the offices; that was the first time I ever saw what a comic book office is. I had no idea what the job entailed. I would come back to America every summer to spend time here with my sister and my family. I would always let Pornsak know, “Hey, I’ll be in New York for a week, we should grab a burger or something.”

At some point he was like, “You should apply to Marvel.” Because he knew that at the time that three or four assistant editors had left, he kind of gave me a nudge. I was one of several new assistants at the time, and I was the only one who had not interned at Marvel before. So, it was a little bit like falling ass backwards into a job that others had already put several steps of work into. Laying out my CV, at the time I think that they were like, “Here’s someone who speaks a couple of different languages, has an understanding of different comics.” The office I ended up working in was Axel Alonso’s, which is the Max books, the Marvel Knights books, all the books that are a little left of the core continuity.

KS: How did that feel at the time? You’d gone from office visitor to actual employee.

SG: I realize that it’s always a little bit of luck, but then it’s also identifying opportunities when they present themselves and saying yes to them. I didn’t feel like I had finally risen to the top of the mountain when I got that job. It was my first real job out of university and I didn’t even feel equipped to do it. A lot of my friends who were assistants came from either film school, creative writing courses, English majors… I’d studied Japanese history and language and culture. I was planning on going back to Tokyo and completing my language studies; I had a thesis topic set up and it would’ve taken me several years to do all this stuff. I never had the strongest wind at my back in terms of knowing what I want to do. That comes now after almost 15 years in the industry — but it’s taken a long time to get there.

KS: You ended up staying there for four years. If we can look back with objective eyes from a distance now, what were you good at that kept you going?

SG: Everyone who gets into that position at Marvel, there’s a little bit of… ambition isn’t the right word. Yeah, maybe it is. You’re aware of the fact that these characters have been here since before you were born and you grew up reading them. No one ends up there by accident. Me, maybe, but even I was like, “This is pretty cool, I get to do this for a living, I get to work with these characters.” Just being in a creative environment with other people, getting to immerse yourself in the art side of that, and then also learning a craft. Look, it’s also a company, and you have to learn how to compartmentalize yourself a little bit. I don’t regret leaving when I did for the reasons that I did, but I also have to acknowledge that I did learn certain skills there that I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. Everything that I’ve accomplished since then is built on that.

I don’t know if that’s exactly answering your question. I can only assume what they liked about me was kind of the history that I brought, the fact that I was experienced with Marvel comics, but also with other types of comics. You want different people in the room; you don’t just want people working at Marvel who have literally read only Marvel their entire lives — because there are such people. What I ended up learning there is that a) I could do the job, and b) I could do it pretty well to the degree that I was being told I was doing it well. I had writers and artists seeking to work with me, or having heard positive things about me. It’s really fun to make comics and to make them at the speed and the pace where you’re sending a book to print on a Friday, late at night, then a couple of weeks later you have that book and you’re like, “If only I’d had time to do it better” — but you don’t have time ‘cause you’re sending more books to print this Friday. It’s a very, very intense return on investment and it’s a cycle that you can get caught up in that can also be very damaging for you. Without going too much into detail, I wasn’t living right. I was not seeking treatment for my depression. Working for Marvel is not enough; you have to also be healthy. Hopefully, the people who work there [now] have a different work-life balance. Ultimately, that’s a place that taught me what I actually need for myself, and it’s something that that place can’t give me.

KS: After Marvel you went out on your own as a writer and freelance editor. To what degree was that a conscious career move, and to what degree did things just kind of fall into place?

SG: Once again, I had no plans. I never lost my dark outlook on life. There’s a certain bit of “If you can’t make it [at Marvel], where are you gonna go from there?” It’s literally the top of the hill. As much as I didn’t want to buy into that, because that’s a really potent weapon they have that they can use — basically your own self-doubts. Part of me really did think comics might just not be a career path for me. I still want to make them, I want to write them as a hobby or whatever. Leaving a job is scary. It’s hard, and I understand that some people can’t imagine doing it or some people aren’t given the opportunity to do it. I took the chance, I’m glad I did, but I did not think that I would continue to have a career at Marvel. So, I took a couple of other jobs, started writing some comics, seeing about getting them made.

KS: Where are we on the timeline here?

SG: 2012. You started seeing the Image move, the Direct Market confluence with a lot of writers, creators, artists at Marvel and DC were themselves feeling a little unsatisfied and were starting to do more creator-owned work — which was seeing more reception, more sales were picking up. All of a sudden, you could make as much money and have a lot more fun with a creator-owned book at Image that maybe only serviced 20-25,000 as you could with a Marvel book that serviced triple that. You had this resurgence in creator-owned books that still needed production editing — writers and artists who work for Marvel might take for granted how much of that work is actually being facilitated by an editor — so I ended up working with numerous creators that I had worked with at Marvel.

KS: Those creators were seeking you out on a freelance basis on the strength of the reputation you’d built up during your Marvel time?

SG: Rick Remender first and foremost because he ended up having five or six ongoings at Image at the same time when I was his editor. Jason Aaron and Jason Letour with Southern Bastards and a couple of other books like that. Word of mouth got around [that] Sebastian as a freelance editor can help you keep your creator-owned books running. I was one of very few freelance editors. It’s a little more common now than it was back then. That was for a year. I was still doing two jobs — I was a fact checker at a travel magazine, which was a very cush, very easy job for me having come from Marvel with, like, 12, 13-hour days. Then, doing freelance editing on the side up until the point where I had enough of that to go full-time again. That was also around the time that I moved in with my then-girlfriend, now wife, so cost of living was split. Again, as always, opportunities would present themselves to me, but I was also in a position in my own life where I could take advantage of them or at least take the risk on. That freelance career ended in being reached out to by Tze Chun, who would become the publisher of TKO Studios.

KS: Before we get to them, as a self-professed non-writer, what was your thought process around writing your first comic?

SG: I think the thought process was, I work with enough writers now and I’ve worked with writers that were new to comics that I helped, even as a non-writer, helped them write a script, workshop a script. So, I knew how it’s done and I just thought it’s natural to do it myself. If I can talk the talk, I need to be able to walk the walk. Also because I always tried to be an editor who does not insert themselves into the story where it’s uncalled for — I always liken it to cuckoo birds who lay their eggs in another bird’s nest. I had kind of gathered up some ideas over the course of a couple of years of Marvel and I was like, “I think I’d like to give this a shot.”  It was just playful. I actually really enjoy the process of writing a comic, crafting a script, even if no one gets to draw this. And then, luckily, opportunities presented themselves and I ended up developing Shirtless Bear-Fighter with my good friend Jody LeHeup, who was also an editor at Marvel, who was also my roommate at the time. We lived together and worked together. It was very, very intense.

Scales & Scoundrels, the other comic I wrote, came together because I did an interview with a French comic book website about my freelance editing, which artist Galaad read and reached out to me through my website, which I was smart enough to have put up. He was an animator, had never done a comic before, and he asked me, “Would you want to develop something together?” And I was like, “Oh yeah, absolutely.” It’s turned into not just a great kind of creative partnership, but he’s one of my best friends. I talk to him every week. We’ve only met once, on my honeymoon, [when I] went to Corsica, where he lives.

KS: It sounds like a fun, rewarding period for you. When TKO came calling, was there any hesitation about “putting the ring on” and being tied down to one place again?

SG: I have the ring on, but there’s nothing to keep me from pursuing other work technically. It was more that in talking to them, they weren’t like, “Hey, do you want to come into our tent and then you’re in our tent?” They were more like, “Hey, do you want to help us build a tent?” The big draw for me is that I was able to bring in my experiences not just as freelance editor, but also as someone who understood both sides of the equation — work for hire, creator-owned, being an editor, being a writer, having been hired to do work, having hired to do work — to really try to create a new system from the ground up that would benefit not just me as part of the system, but everyone who that system would come in contact with. At the time I’d proposed to my now-wife and thinking of a life together, a little more secure of a home was enticing. I didn’t want the ebb and flow of my life to be 100% determined by the Direct Market and its crazy fluctuations. I was like mid 30s. Getting in on the ground floor of a company that I’m still 100% behind and a mission statement I very much believe in, and express outwardly to all the creators I’ve worked with, was something that was very, again, right time, right place.

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KS: A recurring theme of your journey.

SG: I’m sure I wasn’t the only editor they were talking to at the time. It also wasn’t the first time that someone approached me about a similar kind of venture. But I think on both sides of that conversation with myself and my colleagues now — Tze and Sal [Simeone], the two co-founders — all of us felt “This feels right.” That’s the question of being in the presence of mind to understand that this is one of these opportunities that’s not gonna come around probably ever. So, I’m glad I took it. Sometimes, it takes a couple of years for your decisions to be vindicated, but I have been very fortunate in that regard throughout my career.

KS: Let’s talk about your current role as editor-in-chief at TKO. Can you give readers an overall sense of what that position entails?

SG: I think people hear that and they think it’s the top position. You are, essentially, as far as the creative development and the line of books goes, the person where the buck stops. You’re also the person who’s kind of ideally never directly — or too directly — steering the creative development, but you are the one who is kind of blowing the wind that hopefully will catch all the sails. As pitches come in, you know, that one might on paper seem like more of a slam dunk, but there’s something about this one. So, you can be the kind of spark that ignites a lot of different action that trickles all the way down the line — which writers are hired to write, which stories develop, which ideas, which artists, what kind of art styles. You’re bringing both your own sensibility to the job while also recognizing that you’re not just there to make comics that please you, but to think about the audience, as large or as small an audience as you want to imagine for something.

KS: What might be on your plate for a given day?

SG: I am basically reading pitches, developing pitches, editing scripts, working with artists on every stage of a comic — thumbnails, layouts, pencils, inks, colors. Making hires for all of those positions. Lots of phone calls with artists, writers. “What are you working on? What are you doing? What do you want to be doing?” Production work, looking at print proofs, working with a team of people on all of those steps. The art and the craft. It’s really everything right now. I’m also the team leader of editorial, so any questions they have or any notes they have or thoughts or complications, [I’m] working with all of that. I’m like the one-man band right now, but as we expand I’ll have more ability to delegate.

Look at a place like Marvel or DC and their editor-in-chief [can] define entire eras of a publisher, right? The Quesada Era, the DiDio Era — those were the two editor-in-chiefs when I was at Marvel. I don’t know if there’ll ever be a Girner era of TKO. I don’t know if those days are over. I do hope that if I am ever not the editor-in-chief anymore, if I move on or up or out or whatever happens, that people will look at the books that were cultivated and published under my tenure. Because you also want to express yourself. You can express yourself, you know? As an editor across books that you yourself don’t write or don’t come up with, there’s something intangible in the work that you’re allowing others to develop and kind of creatively blossom that I find very fulfilling, but it’s also very difficult to explain. Which is why I always suggest that everyone who makes comics — doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, artist, letterer, colorist — should also edit a book. See the skills involved in getting other people to come together and create something that without you, they couldn’t create in that way.

KS: One more EIC question. Jim Shooter’s maxim during the “Shooter Era” back in the ’80s was that every comic is somebody’s first. Every creative team had to account for a reader picking up that issue for the first time, with no context for the series before then. Do you think that still holds true today, in this era of collected editions and digital libraries?

SG: No. I don’t even know if it held true then. First of all, I think you need to make the [distinction] between monthly superhero ongoings, which is what I’m certain Jim Shooter was talking about, and something like manga that were probably outselling most of Marvel at the time. That was an adage that we were still brought up with at Marvel as an assistant editor. These characters are constantly saying each other’s names, because this could be someone’s first. My first ever Marvel comic was Deadly Foes of Spider-Man, part four of four. The whole point of that four-issue mini-series was all the worst villains banded together to fight Spider-Man — Speed Demon and Hydro Man, the Ringer and Boomerang, just garbage characters that were awesome. I barely even knew who anyone was. I didn’t know Spider-Man’s powers, I just knew he was on the cover, but there were also a hundred other characters on the cover. But I was 10 years old, who cares? I think that there’s an undercurrent in monthly superhero comics by for-profit corporations, a desire to quantify things, to kind of get them into LEGO shape so that you can divvy them up and you can fit 20 LEGOS into one Mega-LEGO and then you can sell one Mega-LEGO. It’s not necessarily a creative adage or a creative lesson to follow. It’s more like, “How do we get more people into this so that we can make more of this?”

KS: Did you bump up against that thinking at Marvel?

SG: I was always like, “Do we really need to have, like, every time Wolverine enters a room, someone says, ‘Look, it’s Wolverine, the coolest X-Man!’?” [laughter] That seems unnatural. And Tom Breevort actually pointed out, next time you watch any soap opera — this was before streaming — or any show 20 minutes long with two commercial breaks, pay attention to the first 60 seconds after that commercial break. You’re going to have a character restate the A and B plots [and] readdress all the characters in the room. He showed us that this is something that is just part of the craft. I don’t think that it’s something that if you do it, that means you have a good comic. It’s kind of like dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s. Is  it gonna trip someone up? Maybe. Is it gonna turn a non-comics reader into a comics-for-life reader? Not necessarily. Look, it’s not bad to have rules, but I don’t think I would start with that one.

KS: We talked earlier about a story that impacted you as a young reader when you were just discovering this artform. Now with a “lifetime” of experience reading comics, give me a nominee from any era that you would put on your personal Mount Rushmore.

SG: Ooh, that’s a big one. I think Calvin and Hobbes belongs there. I think it is one of the purest expressions of comics as a language and also knowing about how hard Bill Watterson fought to be able to use the full Sunday page strip, to break out of the boxes, to be able to use the whole page just for one panel and not have panel borders. The vibrancy and immediacy with which he fought to be able to use everything about the comic book artform… it’s literally like my True North.

The other — and this isn’t even one of my favorite comics per se, but I love it for so many other reasons — is Bone. It’s another thing that only comics can really do, where it’s kind of like if Walt Disney characters were also just around a Lord of the Rings-type fantasy epic. It’s so vibrant, so rich, so wonderful, where [Jeff Smith] can go from truly scary stuff in that book to really silly jokes. Fantasy, heroism, loss, and destiny, always funny, always entertaining. It’s like a constellation.

Lone Wolf and Cub. If you’re gonna do an historical epic, you can’t beat it. It is insurmountable how good that comic is.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m gonna talk about Berserk. Rest in peace, Kentaro Miura. Berserk, to me, is a perfect comic, despite the fact that it is massively bloated, overwritten, ridiculous, and could have been edited down a hundred times. I love it because it shows the depth of a single creative vision. It’s so, so powerful and so clear and so beautiful, and it’s such a mess. But it’s so beautiful because it’s like life. All of us could live forever and we’d have so much to experience, but at some point we have to die and we have to leave, and we take all of that potential with us, but we also leave behind a life that other people can kind of witness. Even [in] all of his hardcore, heavy metal, monster-slaying badassery, it’s a story about us. That’s something that comics can do, I think, better than any other medium — not just express something beautiful, but express something beautiful on the same page with a 10-foot penis man fighting a demon made entirely out of horns. [laughter]

KS: To close out, please tell us what TKO has on the horizon for the rest of ‘22 and into ‘23. Anything you want to call attention to, for new readers or old.

SG: We are putting out our first two hardcovers: SARA and Sentient. SARA by Ennis and Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser; Sentient by Jeff Lemire and Gabriel Walta. I’m usually not one for big, nice collections, but I’m very excited for these. These are gonna look good on any bookshelf.

BTP SG Sara aac

This year we put out Black Mass Rising by Theo Prasidis and Jodie Muir, a beautiful, fully digitally painted gothic horror. A quasi-sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula about what happens in Transylvania a year after Dracula’s disappearance. The other title is Forgotten Blade by our publisher Tze Chun, painted by Tony Fejzula. It’s a science fiction/fantasy story in a world where there is a woman who hires a warrior who is depressed because he can’t find anything worth fighting. [She] commissions him to help her destroy the god of this world, whom she blames for the death of her children. The only thing I can liken to is Dune, ‘cause it is that level of a world, a religion, a worldview, all of it, melted into this cross between science fiction and fantasy.

That’s the thing about TKO — all of our books are, I think, evergreen perennials. Ideally, whenever you find a TKO book, we publish them so that you can crack them open at the start and read them all the way through without having to track down a missing issue. One of our goals was to make sure that every book that you pick up, you’re guided more by your own tastes, your own interests, than by some arbitrary barrier. If you buy the box set, buy the trade, buy digitally, you’ll have the whole story.

This interview was edited for length.




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