When growing up here in Northern Ireland my mother owned what we Brits refer to as a ‘Newsagent’. Sadly it’s something that’s gradually become more and more obsolete but it was a local store where people could come in get their newspapers/magazines/various sweets behind the counter and odd nick nacks. Owning this business meant my mother was there a lot and I was there a lot with her. A shop full of customers isn’t of particular interest to a young boy so my mum would find things to entertain me and my favourite things to keep me busy were the comics she had on sale.
From the Beano to the Dandy to the Buster to Sonic The Comic I lapped them up like there was no tomorrow. Of course, even as a young lad I knew these were fictional tales about characters that did not exist, but never once did I really think about who made the stories. To me the adventures of Dennis The Mennis, Desperate Dan and even Sonic the Hedgehog just magically appeared weekly or monthly. They weren’t written by anyone and no one had taken the time to draw them either. They just came to be as if by magic for my young eyes to enjoy. When I moved on to more ‘adult’ comics like Spider-Man/Batman and the like it was much the same. I noticed the different art styles and such but the names did not matter, all that mattered to me where the stories.
I grew up (as people sadly tend to do) and I stopped reading a lot of the comics I grew up with but a lot of the comics stayed with me and to this day still do. I started to notice the names attached to the comics too and it started to occur to me like it was a great discovery that people actually made these things (shock/horror). Being made aware of who these creators where allowed me to explore other comics beyond what I was used to which led on to other works and so on and so on. As most people/comic fans reading this knows it can be amazing how you can snowball from reading a few select books to having a ridiculous amount of books staring out at you like a mini library.
When I was young I wrote stories of my own starring my favourite characters but they were always very short, were very poor quality and I didn’t really keep it up for any length of time but I enjoyed doing it. Playing in a fictional universe and being allowed to alter the destiny of some of my favourite characters was very liberating but it wasn’t until I read ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ that I considered doing writing as a career choice.
When I read that book (which I would highly recommend to those that have not had the pleasure) I set it down and knew this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to write stories and make people feel how others had made me feel while reading them. I wanted to create new worlds, new characters and maybe have some fun along the way. The trouble was the ‘how’? With only one comic book shop to my knowledge Northern Ireland wasn’t exactly a major comic book hub and my exposure to the internet at the time was limited. I was only around 15 or so at the time believe it or not so I had no clue what I was doing.
I knew Garth Ennis had come from Holywood (with only one L) and had made it big in comics writing what many to consider definitive runs on the likes of the Punisher as well as a lot of his own stuff so I knew it was possible. Not knowing what else to do I started writing just things for myself to try and get better. Reading advise from some of my favourite writers I knew if I wanted to do this I would have to keep at this every day. To be the best I could be I had to work at it and I did. For 12 years I have written something every day unless there was events beyond my control which halted me from doing so but those days I could count on one hand and have fingers left.
I worked on my craft and my education because I knew the possibility for major success was limited. I wanted a backup plan so I spent several years writing/learning and getting advice from great people who took the time to respond to my e-mails like Tom Beland, Warren Ellis, Peter David and this site’s Rich Johnston [Awwww – Rich]. The universal advice I received was if I wanted to make comics I needed to…make comics. I needed something of mine to show the world.
I had no resources, little money and kept thinking maybe I could either earn money to pay for my own book or work my way into the business side of comics and go from there like some others had. By this point I was a regular poster on Brian Michael Bendis ‘Jinxworld’ forums where many people know me as ‘The Doctor’ (yes as in Who). One day a long time friend of mine Andrew Goletz came to a tight group of friends in the DC thread and says ‘Who wants to do a comic for fun?’
I leaped on it and that project became the first issue of the Gathering: The Thing With Feathers. I will never forget opening that package and holding that book in my hands, I had a comic with my name in it and on the back to boot! I had a story drawn by a great talent in Brent Peeples who deservingly so has gone onto bigger and better things. Looking back it’s a story that I think the art carries and is crammed with too many cliché’s and too much dialogue. I needed to get better and luckily for all of us the Gathering got some positive press and great sales and we did another…and another…and another and so on.
Soon we were doing kickstarts and were an actual company named ‘GrayHaven comics’. It was getting to a scale where Andrew couldn’t do it alone so he asked me to help him pick some stories. In the middle of year 2 of GrayHaven’s existence he asked me if I would like to be an editor. It was not something I had ever considered and had no experience in but Andrew had done so much for me (at this point I was featured in 3 or 4 Gathering anthologies which blew my mind) I said yes.
I got tossed into the deep end trying to edit not one but two books, one of which was our initial Sci-Fi volume and was a crash course in editing. I learned what I needed to do, who I needed to talk to and how to deal with difficult creators very, very early. I learned more about scripting from reading other people’s scripts and what to do/what not to do in pitching from reading other’s pitches. It wasn’t always easy and I was working hard but I was getting something out of it to.
To date I have edited or co-edited 10 volumes of the Gathering or one of the spin offs like Tales Of The Abyss or the Hey Kids line we have created. I have had the pleasure of meeting many talented people a lot of you haven’t heard of and worked with some of the best talents in the industry also. The fact that some of these people know my name and have thanked me for getting an artist for them and making their own high quality work look better meant a lot t me.
Still my primary passion was writing and although I had crafted stories in 14 of the various GrayHaven titles (to date) my own solo book eluded me. Nearly 2 years ago my friend Andrew Goletz said I deserved my own book for my work and gave me an opportunity to have a one shot. This became a book I have had in my mind for 11 years called ‘Sparks’ and it would be my debut solo comic.
As many comic creators know there are a lot of pitfalls in this business. Things get delayed, artists come and go and sometimes you can’t catch a break. I had many Gathering stories fall by the wayside for one reason or another but Sparks was mine and I watched it wallow in a black hole of development issues beyond my control and it bothered me.
Others came, other one shots and mini’s and Sparks was left. It crushed me to watch myself come so close and then for reasons beyond my control fall at the last hurdle. I started to wonder if perhaps fate was trying to tell me something. I had received very good reviews for my Gathering tales but I still wanted more. I wanted to have my chance to show people what I thought I was capable of. By now GrayHaven was doing very well considering we were a very small company running on passion and drive by those involved. Andrew came to myself and the other editors and began discussing something he called ‘phase two’ which would feature creators doing their own books instead of anthologies. He wanted us to be able to offer people their chance to tell their own tales but it was a big risk. It’s a crowded comic market out there and frankly it’s seen better days. The majority of us involved in GrayHaven were still unknowns so it would be taking a big roll of the dice to make phase 2 work.
I have to give Andrew all the credit in the world for giving us that chance because he wanted (again) to reward the editors for their hard work and giving them first chance at Phase 2 mini’s. I thought long and hard about it and looked to my comics and my collection of books and thought ‘This could be it for me. If I had one story to tell what would I do? How can I give back to the stories that have given me so much?’ I spied sitting on my shelf many, many detective novels that I had spent my youth reading and had made me a sucker for mysteries. I thought ‘how many really good mystery comics are there?’ and sent in a pitch for what became ‘Living With Death: Murder At Oxford’.
It was a lot of work because that initial pitch had a lot of problems. I was doing other people’s work and not my own. Thankfully I had some great advice from fellow writers to guide me and finally I had a story I was proud of. I needed an artist though and contacted one of our newest/most promising talents in Alan Anguiano to join me on this madcap adventure. Myself and Alan were paired together on the Ghost Stories Gathering anthology and he delivered the work brilliantly. Also on his deviantart it was clear he was a major Sherlock Holmes fan and given that the great detective was a very big influence on Living With Death I offered him to come with me.
Alan brought the thing to life and I received some pages that took my breath away. I was beginning to fall in love with this universe and I came up with a sequel and another and another and another. However the first issue saw some spanners in the work due to us having some printer issues meaning we missed our printing date of June. We found a new printer thankfully and after 12 years of hoping and dreaming and writing I had a book all my own on sale.
Now came the hard part. Would anyone buy it? Would anyone like it? I loved these characters and the world I created. It rejuvenated me and made me believe I could do this. I could play the comics game, stand out and be successful. It’s because of Living With Death I can still work so hard at volumes I’m editing, it’s because of Living With Death that Sparks is back on track with one of my favourite artists on board.
I have many adventures in mind for Stephanie Hawkins and Jenna Wakefield who star in the book. I love these characters and I hope others love them too. I’ve had a long difficult road but just seeing the book on sale makes me happier than I can say.
I hope those that read this enjoyed it. I hope you’ll check out Living With Death here on the GrayHaven website. and if you’ve never heard of us please check out our anthologies. We have amazing talent that I truly believe is the future of this industry and I want to make sure you can all say you were there when these people started.
Please read this knowing dreams can come true and if you work hard enough you will get what you want. I think although I’ve come a long way in some ways I’m just getting started. I hope some of you come with me. I can’t promise it’ll be a smooth ride but I can guarantee that it’ll be an interesting one.