Kickstart This is a semi-regular column focusing on prominent comic book and graphic novel projects that are in the process of being crowd-sourced. This edition, FreakSugar’s Wonder Woman incarnate, Syd Williamson, interviews several members of the creative team involved with the Terminal Pulp Anthology including FreakSugar mainstays Steve Ekstrom and Troy Brownfield.
Ekstrom and crew talk shop about their new anthology, the perils of crowd-sourcing, and the launch of their new branded initiative called Imminent Press.
FreakSugar: Tell me more about the anthology. What is Terminal? How was the concept for the book developed? What initially inspired the creation of this collection of stories?
Steve Ekstrom: Terminal is, for lack of a better term, an intersecting collaborative effort collecting 21 writers and artists from the indie comics scene.
A lot of the origin of this project comes from me privately venting to my pal Troy about the lack of opportunities there are for telling smaller, more intimate stories.
Troy Brownfield: Steve is totally correct about the venting. So much venting.
But honestly, it’s really just the expression of an ongoing concern among a certain level of comics pros. Opportunity is hard to come by for a number of reasons, so we just decided to get a bunch of us together to make our own.
Steve, Justin Peniston, and I have been talking about this kind of thing for a while. A lot of other guys that we know or are connected to (the Terminal crew) have made similar observations, so it was really just a matter of Steve stepping up and saying, “I’ve got an idea.”
FS: Pulp encompasses a number of different genres. Can you give or readers some insight into the kinds of stories will we see from the different creators of Terminal?
Eric Palicki: My story with artist Ande Rummel, “Oubliette,” is pulpy supernatural noir. It’s essentially a buddy cop story, but one of our guys is cursed, and he only exists when no one is looking at him.
Marco Lopez: When I think of pulp storytelling, I generally think of the genre pulp stories. There are the classic detective tales but I think people tend to think of those more as noir and a lot of old pulp stories combined those
elements with either sci fi, fantasy or horror. But the stuff I like generally gravitates to are properties like The Spider, The Phantom, The Shadow, Green Hornet and other such similar characters.
A lot of those type of pulp stories were the basis for my story (co-written by Gene Selassie) a 16-page romp called “The Dusk: Sins of the Father”. It’s the story of a daughter whose family is part of a long line of criminal pulp-style villains that have maintained a legacy for generations and what happens when she has to correct the sins of their past at the possible cost of her own life.
Matt Brady: My thinking of pulp has always leaned towards the “weird science” side of things – cool gadgets, experiences out there on the edge of what we think could happen, and the scientist called in to save the day. The gadget side of things is a little trickier these days, since we’re living in a world filled with weird science gadgets, but in my story with Nikola Cizmesija, I think we’ve managed to get enough of the classic elements in – a missing Gemini capsule that wasn’t supposed to exist, a cover-up, a city that doesn’t exist, a train that doesn’t stop, a rescue using crazy science, and of course, a two-fisted hero.
I took this whole story as a creative and science challenge – what would pulp be like today if it had never stopped going? Who would be our heroes today, and what stories would we be telling if superheroes never came on the scene?
Ekstrom: …and this is why I bugged Matt to work on the book until he agreed to do to. The guy asks the right questions. To me, that’s the mark of a someone truly creative. It starts with something as simple as a question.
CW Cooke: I agree. Pulp can be anything and is about attitude and about the weird and the wild, and I always think of pulp mixed with noir tendencies. Darkness and grimy worlds as well as an overarching idea of the strange, but set in as close to a real world as possible.
My story with Grimfish creator, Aaron Pittman, is called “A Ghost Among Us.” We took a more superhero approach to ours, blending the pulp noir aspects into superhero worlds to give our story an exciting twist on the great world presented in our shared universe.
Ekstrom: I tried to stray outside of the box even further than some of my compatriots. I’ve been eyeballing romance comics from the mid-2oth Century for some time now. Rosy Press really tapped into something great with Fresh Romance last year and I’ve been inspired ever since. So I’m mashing up my take on Postmodern romance with a hail of John Woo style hard-boiled bullet casings.
“GRRzly & K!nX” is sort of an homage to Natural Born Killers and True Romance. It’s about a seriously shifty confidence man who preys on women via the internet and his e-date with a very dangerous psychopath who operates under the name “The Unicorn Killer”. I kind of want to flip a few dynamics on their ear and create something unique with a really cool female anti-hero and this unlikely Ne’er-do-well suitor who she finds herself attracted to.
FS: What are some of the challenges of writing short stories that are interconnected in a shared universe?
Vito Delsante: I think, thematically, some stories connect better to others. There are one or two crime noir detective stories, but they don’t exactly follow the same rules in the storytelling. So, we came up with ways to have “strands of a web” as connective tissue. Just the slightest hint. For example, in “STEELTOWN”, Rex is reading Justin’s “BROOD MARE” book.
Brownfield: I think that it’s fun, really. In terms of our thing, it’s kind of a reward, a type of Easter egg hunt, that will probably become more obvious once you’ve read it a couple of times.
I liken it to what they did in the comic-based films before we started to get comic-film shared universes; you might see a stray reference to Roxxon here, or a nod that Metropolis exists there, etc. In our case, it’s sort of built on the idea of giving the stories some connective fiber without being slavish adherents to someone else’s rules.
Ekstrom: I was surprised at how effortless it was to just include references of other projects in G&K–hell, I plugged six references to other stories in the book into my story. Bob certainly didn’t flinch at plugging the references in.
One of the main reasons I wanted to make a group project with other creatives was simply because I love the idea of collaborating in a higher sense of the effort–especially with people whose work I’ve grown to love as a peer in the field. Our efforts definitely gives our shared world a very unusual mystique that I think people will find intriguing.
FS: Why create an anthology instead of individual stories? What are the benefits of working in a collected format?
Delsante: I think…and this is purely speculation on my part…but I think that, while each of these stories is strong enough to stand on it’s own, they all “play well” together for the greater concept. That concept is, to a degree, an abstract idea of “all roads lead to” somewhere. That all stories are, even tangentially, connected. If we each published the stories separately, I don’t think the reader would grasp that concept, even as an abstraction.
Cooke: I agree with Vito completely. The anthology aspect lets us all build our own worlds but have the idea that these worlds all exist together. Any one of our characters could pop up in the next story or the next premise.
And all of us have worked hard to create something that we are all very excited by. We all pushed each other to do our best work, all looking out for one another and all working hard for inter-connectivity.
If you look at Hollywood, they want universes like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, shared worlds where each and every character feels connected somehow. By doing this as an anthology, we are making it clear to the reader that we are all connected together.
Brownfield: I agree with those fellows, and I also think that you get a little bit more of the specific creative team’s personality. By giving a really big umbrella concept and seeing what each team comes back with, you get a sense that this story was important to the creators for different reasons. No one was “assigned” their story; it was generated with each writer and was their individual reaction to the challenge of the pulp concept.
I’m a big fan of “traditional P.I. in crazy situation” kind of stories, so that informed my approach. It’s a little bit of “whimsy goes dark”, which is actually something that’s been present in a lot of my work, now that I think about it. It’s probably a cry for help.
Ekstrom: We’ve definitely taken the idea of creative synergy to a really pure place with this project in that we’re creating trippy individual pieces of meta-fiction. We’re bending rules just enough so that the weirdness we’re making isn’t breaking anything fundamental that might make this project seem clichéd.
FS: Terminal collects ten, sixteen-page stories involving twenty-one creators. What are some of the concerns your group has when attempting to Kickstart a project of this magnitude?
Palicki: Twenty-one creators PLUS letterers, colorists, our cover artists and a foreword writer. I’m grateful for Steve having taken point in all stages, from recruiting the writers and artists to making the video to organizing campaign rewards. As long as you’ve got one guy committed to keeping the trains running on time, your chances of success are relatively high.
Ekstrom: Oh staaaaahp…no, do go on… (laughs)
Cooke: Success has to be the biggest concern because Kickstarter is a yes or no venture. It either happens or it doesn’t. My other biggest concern has always been making sure all voices are heard and everyone gets a say and that we all work together for the same end goal. Which we have and which we are.
We all have very different voices and very different ideas, but we seem to work really well together as a collective. So I think success is Imminent. Pun intended. (laughs)
FS: Ironically, the word ‘terminal’ literally describes the end of something, but for this group its more of a beginning. How does all of this work on Terminal lead to the creation of Imminent? What exactly is Imminent?
Cooke: Imminent is a brand that we are creating together. A coming together of a lot of like minded individuals who want to DIY and want to make comics and make our voices heard.
In my opinion, Terminal does mean the end. But sometimes, beauty and other amazing things are born from an ending. My story starts with a massive ending of life and brings to life a brand new character and a brand new premise that I think people will love. It takes a look at a character very similar to one of the oldest superheroes in a way that almost no one has ever explored.
Terminal can be an ending, but in this instance, we are building something wonderful out of a lot of different endings and a lot of different failings.
And Imminent as a brand is also an announcement. We are Imminent, as creative minds and as creative teams and as creative voices.
FS: Once you launch, what can we expect to see in the near future from Imminent?
Brady: I’ve got to get back to teaching science, which limits my time for comics these days, but my plans for The Science Organization are big – I hope they’ll be coming back soon. After all, we have to learn why that Gemini mission that doesn’t exist was launched in the first place.
Delsante: I plan on doing a couple of…they’re anthologies, in the sense of artists involved, but they’re one story, so I don’t know how to describe them. Regardless, they are one shots called TRIBUTE. The first one should be…very interesting.
Lopez: Well, my webcomic Massively Effective ends in about 2 weeks and I would like to launch a Kickstarter via the Imminent label for that. It would include a bunch of other (non-related) comic book short stories I’ve written in a nice package of about 110-120 pages.
Then there is the webcomic Gene Selassie and I are working on with Sam Nang called Falling Rain. That’s gonna be a 66-72 page Sci Fi/ RomCom broken up into 8 pages a month. Then I have another Kickstarter I’d like to do for an extreme horror action series of 44 page European-style graphic novel.
Mark Bertolini: I have a 5-issue miniseries coming out from Darby Pop publishing that will hit around summer of 2017. I also have a few other anthology projects that I hope to get out into the world this year, as well as continuing to develop and pitch more projects to publishers. The work never stops around here!
Palicki: In not-directly-Imminent news, have some more anthology work coming, and a follow up to my series NO ANGEL, but I loved working with these guys and I hope we can all do this dance again sooner than later. TERMINAL 2, Guys?
Cooke: I hope to do Terminal 2 and more anthologies like this. I have Solitary vol 2 coming in the very near future and I have more creator owned work coming out in different places and through different publishers. I’ve got a lot of things on the horizon that I’m waiting on, so my hope is that 2017 is going to be a big year for my output. In fact, I just had a conversation this morning with another friend about another universe I’ll be playing in. So 2017 should be big.
Brownfield: I have around 200 pages of my webcomic Sparkshooter, the first two chapters of which were drawn by Sarah Vaughn (of Alex + Ada, and Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love) with Ben Olson, with all subsequent and current chapters drawn by Enkaru. I would say that doing something outside of the webcomic format with that might be something that is . . . yeah . . . imminent. (laughs)
Ekstrom: Terminal 2?! I’m still in the throes of getting the first one funded, guys! I’m going to need a solid nap and a few tacos before I jump on the next one…
I definitely have a couple of creator-owned projects I want to delve into with Imminent. Plus, I’m going to be relaunching my webcomic, Cannibal Island, with G&K artist Bob Rivard. Once we have our pace set for content releases…I’ll think about it.
[Pause] Okay. I’m down…Terminal 2: Electric Bugaloo here we come! (laughs)
Lopez: I’m all down for Terminal 2. I really like working with these guys and being part of this group. Especially Imminent Press. I think we have something special here. I know everyone says that but it’s just a feeling. This is a great group of individuals with the same goal of putting out great comics.
Ekstrom: That’s what I’m talking about, Marco!
I think the most amazing thing about this assemblage of creators is that we’re all hungry. The shared goal of being taken seriously as individual talents really has upped our collective game exponentially. Imminent as a brand doesn’t just say, “We’re coming,” it says, “We’re here and we’re for real.”