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CIGARETTES, COMICS AND FISHFLIES...
FISHFLIES #1 FINAL ORDER CUT-OFF DUE THIS MONDAY!
Long before I began working on this series, fishflies and comic books had forever been linked in my mind. One night, when I was in my late teens, or early 20’s, I had a strange experience. Let me explain…
Every year in the lakeside communities in Essex County, where I grew up, a plague occurs. For about two or three weeks, every summer, the lakeside areas of Essex County, like Belle River, are literally blanketed with small, winged insects which the locals call fishflies. Their name comes from the fact that they come off the water, in this case Lake Eerie, and actually smell like fish. Some other Ontario communities, like North Bay, call them Shadflies (but more on that later).
At any rate, these Fishflies cover every inch of the sidewalks, streets and storefronts near the lake for a couple weeks, tormenting shop owners and pedestrians, until all dying off at once. You can imagine the small and the mess. It’s pretty gross. Well, one night, I was driving to meet some friends, and made a quick pit-stop at the Belle River Minimart (the very one shown in this first issue) to buy cigarettes. The parking lot and was blanketed with fishflies and I can remember the sickening crunch and pop under my shoes as I walked towards the store. Once inside the store, I did what I always did before grabbing smokes, and checked the magazine rack to see what new comics they had. This was during the only period in my life where I was more interested in smoking and drinking with my friends than I was in comics. For a few years I wasn’t actively buying comics, but I still liked to keep an eye on the newest issues when the opportunity arose, as it did that night. That memory clung to me the same way those fishflies clung to the light of the minimart window. But, like so many other things, It sort of faded to some dormant part of my brain over time.
Cut to about twenty years later and I was back visiting family in Essex County and it was fishfly season again. I had just finished my graphic novel Mazebook and my antenna were out for new ideas. I had it in my mind to do a sort of rural crime story. That was a genre I hadn’t really tackled yet. I was originally thinking of something that was a little more Brubaker and Phillips but in a small town. But no ideas were really coming until I saw those disgusting fishflies again. The scene that opens this story pretty much appeared fully formed in my head all at once. The teenaged boys crossing the minimart parking lot to buy candy and betting each other to step on the fishflies only to stumble upon a robbery in progress with tragic consequences.
It was a good scene, but not a story yet. So, it sat for a while until other ideas started to cling to it. Those other ideas centered around a totally separate idea I was thinking about, a monster story. I had this vision of a little girl and a huge monster running around together. When this idea and the fishfly idea met, Franny Fox was born and so was the book you just read.
Fishflies had a strange gestation and development period and it hasn’t been the easiest book to do. I had finished the first two chapters when I received an email from Nick Spencer. Nick had taken a job with the email newsletter platform, Substack. Substack wanted to sign a number of high-profile cartoonists and comic book creators to publish new work via their platform. And, while I admit I’d never considered publishing comics online, Nick made a compelling case, and if I am being completely honest, offered a substantial sum of money. Since I already had a good chunk of Fishflies done, I decided to split it up into 5 or 6 page mini-chapters and serialize it through my new Substack newsletter. I did this from August 2021 and August 2022. But, as is often the case, the story continued to evolve and change the deeper I got into it and I went back and revised some of the early scenes and characters. So, the version serialized on Substack is actually a “first draft” with some differences from the final version published here. Those early Fishflies chapters can still be accessed on this Substack along with many other process posts and behind the scenes looks at all my books.
I was just starting to draw chapter four when another huge curveball came my way. I had been developing the TV adaptation of my Essex County graphic novel for several years. But, as these things go, it didn’t seem like it was going to happen…until it did. Suddenly in February 2022, the Essex show was a go and I was writing every episode (along with brilliant co-writer Eilish Kirwan) and showrunning the production and we were set to start filming in August 2022. So, my life got turned upside-down. For the first time in almost twenty-years I wasn’t able to make comics every day. Instead, I was in endless meetings about costumes casting, locations etc. and then I had to relocate about four hours north of Toronto to North Bay where we went into production. So, I had to put the half-finished Fishflies on hold for almost a year and, with the momentum of day-to-day work broken, I started to lose faith in Fishflies all together.
But then another strange coincidence happened. While in pre-production up in North Bay I quickly learned that they too got infested with fishflies for a couple weeks every summer off of Lake Nippissing. But they didn’t call them fishflies, they called the shadflies. Fish or shad…they were just a disgusting. They would cling to the Essex County production offices each morning and someone had to go out with a broom to clean them away. It was a sign. I knew I had to finish Fishflies.
As of this writing, I finished post-production on Essex County about a month or so ago and have been back to Fishflies full force finishing up the book. It became obvious early that the pace of the story didn’t lend itself to the regular 22-page comic book format. The story read much better in larger chunks. So, after a lot of back and forth with Eric Stephenson, we settled on publishing Fishflies in these extra-length 64-page, perfect bound issues every other month. I love this format it reminds me of the Elseworlds books DC used to publish when I was a kid. And, for only $5.99 you are getting the equivalent of three regular-sized comic issues for less than the price of two. Also, for those who love to wait for trades, these bi-monthly volumes are the trades. We won’t be collecting them into trades. When the entire 350-page story is done, we may eventually do a complete hardcover, but for now, these big issues are the book.
I also wanted to thank the immensely talented Peach Momoko for her gorgeous alternate cover to this issue. There will be other variant covers coming, including an amazing one by the legendary Kelley Jones!
So, I hope you stick around! This strange story of small-town crime, unexpected friendship and the supernatural is just getting started. Next month Franny finally meets the Fishfly and all hell breaks loose in Belle River!
And please, if you can, ask your local comic book store to order you a copy. Final orders are due this Monday and every one helps immensely!
See you soon!