Welcome to my first Ask Me Anything (AMA). My apologies in advance if I missed your question, as you all know I have a lot to do on The Farm. If you happen to see that your question is missing, just be sure to save it for next time. Thanks!
Let’s get to it.
Hi Jeff, I was wondering what your next media project will be (besides sweet tooth)? Also, have you ever wanted to direct a project, and if so which property would you most want to direct? Thanks!
Hey Keith. It looks like the next likely project to come to screens will be Essex County as a 5-part TV mini-series which I am writing and showrunning myself. I have been working on this adaptation for nearly five years and (fingers crossed) we are set to start shooting next Spring.
I don’t really have any interest in directing. Comics is my first love and I also love writing. Screenwriting is a natural extension of what I like to do, but I think directing is an entirely different discipline and one I don’t really have the time or energy to pursue. But you should never say never so…who knows. Maybe one day.
Spoilers for those not up to date on the Black Hammer books.
Something I love about the World of Black Hammer is the way it explores violence and superheroes. The heroes succeed in the original farm arc not by fighting Anti-God, but by accepting retirement to a quiet life; in The Quantum Age, the only way to defeat Gravitus was to avoid fighting him; Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy built up to a huge confrontation that instead ended with a choice to break the cycle of violence, for Matthew to have another chance at a childhood and family. These stories are playing in the genre of superheroes where "the big fight" is practically expected by the readership, yet more often than not, you avoid it.
For me, this is a big part of what makes a story feel like a Black Hammer story. Even a story like Black Hammer: Visions #3, which hyped the story as being "Abraham Slam vs. The Slam", ends up being a story about why fighting was the worst possible choice. The heroic choice would've been to have a conversation.
So my question is how much of this sort of thematic material is conscious, especially when you're going into territory like the Black Hammer: Visions anthology stories, where you're inviting other creators to play in the world you and Dean Ormston created? How do you set those boundaries and what do you consider to be the core ingredients that make a story a Black Hammer story?
Mark, thanks for the great question. I think this theme of “avoiding the fight” or exploring violence in superhero comics is certainly present but I don’t think it is a unifying theme for all the BH books. In Skulldigger this was very much a central theme. In particular I was looking to explore the tropes of the “grim and gritty” masculine super hero and consciously trying to subvert that in the way you outline in your question. That book was very much about this theme and about transcending these tropes. And in general it probably pops up through various BH books because I find the “big fight” the least interesting part of superhero comics and in Black Hammer I get to flip that stuff and focus on the characters.
Lastly and as a fun fact, I gave no mandate or direction to any of the Visions writers. I honestly allowed them all do whatever they want. They were all creators I admired so I was very hands off with those stories.
Hey Jeff ! Question for the AMA .. What was the significance (if any ) of the red outlined panels in Gideon Falls ?!!
Hey Geoff. I am going to ask Andrea to answer this…hold on….
“There's a lot of insight behind the visual choices we took while working on Gideon Falls and this, obviously, includes the use of the colors (that are by the legendary Dave Stewart). In this specific case, the red outline for some inset panels, it's part of a more generalized use of the reds (and the meaning we've decided to give to them) during the whole series.
Red is a warm color and, being that the book was mostly told visually in desaturated cold colors, adding red (and on an unconscious level) contributed to enhancing the sense of danger for the reader. You'll notice how almost all the appearances of the Black Barn in the book are basically absorbed by the red color.
This was executed for some of the panels in the book. Each time we needed to enhance the sense of danger, or to give indication that something is going wrong, the color red bordered those panels to provide the reader with a sense of unease and instability.” - Andrea
Hey Jeff! loving these newsletters and everything you've done with substack so far.
I have 2 quick questions, any plans on reprinting Ash Try? (please say yes) & have you ever considered doing a sequel to Plutona? would love to see more of that world & Emi Lenox art is amazing, I loved that you did a few pages at the end of each issue too
Thanks! I am not sure if I will reprint Ashtray but I plan to give you all a digital download of them. The Soft Malleable Underbelly story from Ashtray #1 will be reprinted in the back of the upcoming Gideon Falls Hardcover.
As for Emi, she is one of my favorite people and one of my best friends in comics and I love working with her. We are asked about a potential sequel to Plutona A LOT which probably means we should do it. I have a rough story idea for it and we have talked about it many times. I just need to find the the time to write it, which is hard right now with everything else I have going on. There is also one other potential project Emi and I are discussing so I guess we’ll see which one excites us most.
Hey Jeff I just have 2 questions, what are 2 characters from the Big 2 you would’ve liked to write for or revisit? Also what’s your favorite David Lynch film?
Adrian, I always wanted to get my paws on Shazam, but the timing never worked out. I pitched it two different times but the character was always in use elsewhere. Shazam is the one that got away.
Twin Peaks is my favorite thing period. But taking Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me out I would have to say Mulholland Drive or Blue Velvet.
Hi Jeff, love your work!
1. How do you know when an idea is robust enough to be turned into a full story. How do you know when it isn’t?
2. Did you ever consider writing a sequel to Batman: The Smile Killer?
Brandon. You never really know when an idea is ready until you try and make it ready. Sometimes you have an idea or a few ideas and you sit down and try to articulate them and try to shape them into a story and they just keep going and growing until you actually have a story. Other times you write them down and they just die on the page. But really you have to sort of try and push past that point and see if it still excites you or of it just sort of fades. It happens kind of naturally. Almost everything I have done was from an idea that stuck around in my head for at least a year or so and never went away.
As for Smile Killer, I have no interest in doing any more Joker stories. That was a tough character to write and to get any kind of empathy or hope into it. I think I pulled it off once, but don’t think I could again. And Andrea and I are going to be busy with a multi-year creator -owned project that will be announced near Halloween.
When you draw, how long would you say you generally spend at your desk before getting up for a coffee break or to stretch your legs? Is it more time-based or "Gotta finish this page before I let myself take a break"?
Josh, I started drawing standing up about five year ago and it totally changed my work day. I get less tired and less antsy at the desk and move around more as I draw. This has allowed me to draw for longer periods without burnout. For me it’s almost the opposite of what you describe, I find myself often thinking “I really want to go get a coffee I should stop” and then two hours later finally stopping & getting that coffee.
I also binge-watch shows as I draw (or I guess binge-listen to shows) and that usually keeps me glued to the board.
Such a huge fan especially Descender. Actually have a Tim tattoo on my arm. But how do you keep all the stories you have going at once straight in your mind? Does that have something to do with why you write so far ahead of the art?
It all has to do with the ability to write REALLY far ahead of my artists. This allows me to do deep dives one book at a time. For example when it appeared I was writing Gideon Falls, Black Hammer, and Descender at the same, in truth I usually spend an entire month just working on a specific property before going to the next. I would write three or four issues in a sprint, which allowed me to get really focused on that world and that story. Then, as I approached burnout, I would put it aside, and jump to the next book for a month or two. Essentially it keeps me fresh and allows me to get really focused on one story at a time while the others rest.
The only way to do this is to be super far ahead of your artists. I can do this usually on creator-owned books because I don’t need story approval from an editor and I can really make my own schedule. It is much harder to do this when I am work-for-hire and beholden to a publisher’s schedule.
That old queer
I second the request to hear more about other books or movies you enjoy. Honestly, I think your creator owned books are far superior to your work for hire (not to insult your mainstream work, which is still very cool), BUT I'd to know which X-People are your favorites.
That Old Queer. I will definitely try to make some sort of list of all the recent books, movies, and other content I enjoy in an upcoming post.
I agree my creator-owned books are, on a whole, much stronger. Working for the big two doesn’t allow you the same freedom that creator-owned work does and that often shows. There are rare occasions where the stars align (my Animal Man run or my Moon Knight run for instance) but there are just so many variables that are out of your control with work-for-hire that it is nearly impossible to have the same track record with those type of projects.
Hi Jeff, I'm a big fan of the Black Hammer universe characters. I was wondering with them being archetypes of the traditional heroes (Barb is Martian Manhunter, Gail is Captain Marvel, etc) is there an archetype you would still like to see added to the universe that hasn't been explored yet?
I kind of feel like I have hit most of them at this point. Doing all the Black Hammer spin-offs and the core books really allowed me to play with almost everything I ever wanted to. There are still a few more archetypes I want to play around with but those will likely appear in this current Black Hammer Reborn series, so I won’t spoil them here.
Daniel López Robles
We're so lucky for being able to ask you!
You already told us you love Murakami's novels. How about other media? Are you into movies? Which are your favourites? Playlists for Royal City were an awesome idea. What are you listening to these days?
You've been working with the one and only David Rubín (hopefully you'll tell us about Cosmic Detective soon!). I'm currently reading Sentient, where you collaborated with the great Gabriel H. Walta. Are you familiar with the work of any other of the many talented Spanish comic artists and authors?
P.S. Signed and sketched copies of Sweet Tooth compendium will be available at the same time as the Primordial and Gideon Fall ones?
I am planning on doing new monthly playlists for this Substack. I just need to get it organized. And as I said before I will make a list of recent films and shows I enjoyed soon too. (Just watched PIG and it was incredible!).
There are SO MANY talented Spanish artists. I have worked with a few others over the years including Francis Portella. And of course my Sweet Tooth collaborator Jose Villarrubia. I cannot wait to be able to talk more about my new series with Gabriel!
Hi Jeff, can we get an update on the Madame Dragonfly book with Dean?
Dean just finished drawing the first of four issues. The current plan is a 2022 release for that book.
Hey Jeff! I had two questions if that’s ok? I’m an aspiring cartoonist and I’m 33 now and teaching full time. I’m currently working on my first book and I was wondering am I too old to really make a career shift into comics? I want to do it either way but I get a lot of anxiety about this. My other question is how did you know when your art style was ready? What made you decide how you drew in lost dogs was more you than your earlier unreleased work. I think I’m in that same stage now. Thanks Jeff!!
John. I was almost thirty when I published my first book. So you are definitely not too old to begin this transition. You can wait forever to reach some imaginary point where you think you are “good enough” to publish something in a definitive style but at the end of the day, you just have to do it. Publish something. It won’t be perfect. It will have flaws. And then you try and improve off those flaws with the next book. And again with the next and the next…
You can talk yourself out of doing something forever. There are always excuses. Just do it. Get the work out there. Then keep going.
Ask you anything??? Okay ... can I see your original script for Constantine #1 (I thought it was #0, but you know, the issue you wrote to bridge between Hellblazer and Constantine)?
Literally the hardest time I ever had writing a comic. Justice League Dark #0. Gah. It was a nightmare. I wanted to do a DCU origin for Constantine that lined up with his Vertigo origins. DC editorial had far different ideas. It was a mess. I am getting angry just thinking about it.
I had the best intentions for Constantine but it was impossible to write him the way I wanted. Sometimes getting to write your favorite characters is just too hard and too much pressure to live up to.
First off, I want to thank you for introducing me to the story of Chanie Wenjack. I have little doubt that I wouldn't have come across his name if it weren't for you and Gord Downie. With that said, what was it like collaborating with Gord? Did working with him impact your career (and perhaps life) in any way? I still find myself listening to Secret Path from time to time.
P.S. There is an extraordinary Indigenous artist and writer named T. C. Cannon, who I learned about after going to a museum exhibit a few years back. The exhibit inexplicably moved me to tears. I think you'd like his work!
All the best,
Anthony. Thanks for recommending T.C. Cannon, I will check them out. As for Secret Path and my time with Gord, I will do a huge “FROM THE VAULT” on Secret Path later this year and when I get to that point I will try and be as open about the project as I can!
I was wondering if you were going to ever go into detail about your work on AD. I know it wasn’t something you wrote but I definitely feel like it fits in with your body of work. I was curious about your approach to drawing for someone else and the hybrid style of comics and text. I certainly think it’s an overlooked work of both you and Scott Snyder that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
I often forget to mention AD as well. It was a tough project for me as I tried to squeeze it in between other projects I had going at that time. But I will definitely write more about that experience and maybe bring Scott in to discuss it too. All in all, I am very proud of that book and wish it had reached a bigger audience.
I don’t mean to keep shunting answers about specific books like this off to a later date but keep your eyes peeled for my “FROM THE VAULT” featurette on Substack, as those posts are how I plan to share my creative process for all my works.
Hello! What is your favorite thing you have hidden in your art that most people won't notice?
I don’t really hide a lot of easter-egg things in my art. I did it a few times, like when Sweet Tooth and The Nobody appeared in Underwater Welder. But I don’t really hide too much in that way. There is a Crisis on Infinite Earths visual reference in Trillium if you can find it.
Hey Jeff, as a writer, how do you get to the emotional cores of your characters with it feeling real and paying off, and not over dramatic or falling short/flat from the beat?
Huge fan of your art and writing btw, my LCS guy already knows to put the Lemire variants in my pull box.
Thanks! Some exclusive variants coming to my Secret Store here soon, stay tuned.
In terms of the emotional cores and stories of my characters, I wish there was an easy answer to that, but the truth is a lot of that really comes from intuition. There is no formula or step-by-step answer. I don’t really approach writing from an intellectual place. I create the world, the characters, and put them in these often intense emotional situations where it organically comes to life in my head. After that, the process feels like I’m more of a stenographer writing it all down. I just try to have them react to these intense situations and settings in as authentic way as possible.
I write from the gut and don’t really overthink it.
I know that may not be a satisfying answer or helpful to aspiring writers, but it’s as honest a way as I can explain it.
Hi Jeff - You’ve mentioned how difficult it was as a film student to communicate your story ideas to others and have it transform and filter out through multiple individuals to the point where the final creation was not what you initially conceived. Does that sentiment linger when writing the adaptation of Essex County for television?
A lot of my unease when I was younger in regards to film/TV came from the fact that I was still very much figuring out who I was, what kind of stories I wanted to tell, and how to tell them. At this point, I have a more firm footing of who I am as a creator and can approach things from a much more confident place. Film and TV will never be able to give me the intimacy that comics can but the collaboration of it is a nice change of pace from working mostly alone for the last 20 years. It’s nice to be able to explore that now. I would never strictly give up comics for another medium but if I can dip my toes in film/television and still keep doing comics, than that’s a win win that keeps me on my toes.
I noticed in a lot of your creator owned characters you see them wearing the number 10. Any significance with that number. Pavel Bure tribute, perhaps? haha. Thanks Jeff!
I was never much of a Pavel Bure fan, being a Leaf’s fan. The truth is 10 was my number when I was a kid playing hockey!
Your top 3 characters in the Black Hammer Universe
Can I answer Colonel Weird for all three? He is by far the most fun to write (and draw). But I love them all. They are all my babies.
Bama Leafs Fan
Favorite Toronto Maple Leaf of all time?? I'm a Mats Sundin guy myself!
Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark for sure. Their run in 93 was what really hooked me as a Leaf’s fan.
Just saw the Swamp Thing announcement! Looking forward to Tales From the Swamp!!!
I’ll definitely post some process art from Doug etc. And this story will also serve as a coda of sorts to my Animal Man run.
Hello! I started reading your Peacemaker backups in Inferior 5 and loved it but after the book was delayed I missed the end of the story. Any chance your Peacemaker story will ever be printed as a one shot?
The entire Inferior Five project was a bit of a mess. Keith and I started with the best of intentions but things sort of fell apart. I know that Keith had some health and other family issues and that impacted his ability to do the book. From there things sort of lost focus. I did draw one other Peacemaker backup that wasn’t printed.
As I write my answer to this question, it’s so funny now to think how my Inferior Five back-up strips feature Peacemaker, who is now a high profile character after the the success of James Gunn’s Suicide Squad movie. I started that project in 2018 I think, before James Gunn had ever come aboard SS. So it is just a weird coincidence. When pitching the series, I just tried to pick an old DC character that was being published in 1988, when the story is set, that no one would care if I messed around with.
This page of unpublished art will be for sale soon through Cadence. Ironically Keith Giffen also had an unpublished Peacemaker story back in the 80’s and when we started this book he sent me a page of unpublished art from that book as a gift.
Below are two photos from two different unpublished Peacemaker stories for your eyes only.
Your work with the wonderful Tyler Crook put me on to Harrow County. I loved his artwork from the moment I laid eyes on it. Thank you for bringing his talent to my attention. His art is so absolutely perfect for Black Hammer.
How was it you first discovered Crook and how was it you ended up working together?
Read Primordial today, absolutely wonderful. Totally digging the We3 vibes.
I remembered Tyler’s work from a book called Petrograd a few years ago, but it was really Harrow County that caught my attentions as well. Black Hammer has the same editor as Harrow County so it was an easy connection.
Fun fact, I was actually asked to draw a fill-in issue of Harrow County a couple of years back, but I was too busy to do it.
This is awesome, thanks for this. I've always wondered what happened with Royal City. It seemed like it was building up for a longer run, and then all of a sudden the final issue was announced. After reading that first paragraph, though, it makes a lot of sense. Sounds like a hell of a grind for a monthly book.
Couple questions for the upcoming Q&A, if I'm not too late. Do you see yourself revisiting Royal City in the future at some point in a non-monthly format? And after looking at your desk, do you sit or stand when you draw? Or change it up?
Also, I feel like we're getting some Fishflies sneak peeks in some of these pictures, and I am intrigued!
I do plan on going back to Royal City for sure. Maybe after FISHFLIES. I will likely do it as a miniseries or graphic novel. I know the story I want to tell and I am excited about it. It would focus on Richie Pike and his life after the events of the first series, but also flash back to his early 20’s as well.
ONE MORE THING…
Wanted to give you all an early heads up that the original cover art for the two variants I did for Primordial Issue #1 is now live and for sale on Cadence Comic Art. Happy collecting! -Jeff
Some really interesting questions and answers. Looking forward to future AMAs.
The standing while drawing was a really interesting point, I know a few people who have standing desks. Do you have any similar tricks for when you are writing? I often struggle to write for long periods of time unless I am in a coffee shop for some reason but when home in my own office I struggle, I'm guessing it has to do with doing my day job in the same office.
One of these questions made me draw the parallels between you and another multi talented comics auteur, Neil Gaiman. He show ran Good Omens, you are showrunning Essex County. He created a fringe universe with The Sandman, you created Black Hammer something like an allegory for mainstream comics. I cannot wait for what next projects either of you have up your sleeves (Sandman Audible part II tomorrow as of writing, Maze Book and Primordial issue 2 soon). Thanks for the AMA!