You may not be familiar with comic book publisher Zenescope, but most likely you soon will be. Earlier this summer we sat down with newely exclusive Zenescope writer Patrick Shand and had a hell of a time talking about writing comics and his work at Zenescope. We recently got the chance to catch up with Pat and also speak to one of his editors, Matt Rogers, about Zenescope and the industry as a whole. With Godstorm #0 hitting shelves September 26th and issue #1 hitting shelves October 17 there’s a lot to talk about.
AiPT: Let’s start with you, Matt. How did you get into this line of work? What is your background?
Matt Rogers: In all reality, I got into this career by accident. I mean, I have been collecting comics since I was about 12 years old, but at that age, I never would have dreamed that I would be working for an actual publisher when I finished my Bachelors Degree in Network Communications Management in 2009. I was having the hardest time finding a job in my field because most employers wanted 5+ years of experience. One day I came across a posting on Facebook from Zenescope looking for an intern. I sent in a copy of my resume just looking for any form of work. I met with Ralph at the Zenescope offices twice to talk about it. The biggest issue was at the time, there was no budget to hire another employee, and I couldn’t work there as a intern because I was out of college and I wouldn’t earn college credit. After about 3 months of being persistent and numerous phone calls/e-mails, Joe finally made me a job offer. It only started as part time and was paying a little less than my current part time job, but I knew I would be in an environment I loved. For the first six months at the company, I worked in the warehouse packing orders and maintaining stock. But during those six months, my superiors took notice of my ability to find errors. Regardless of it being an artistic error or grammatical error, I was rather spot on. Ralph and Joe took notice of this and I eventually moved into an editorial position. Within three months I was working on the trade paperback 1000 Ways to Die. It was essentially trial by fire as it was a rather large project for a “newbie” to be working on. As time went on, more and more was handed to me and now I have numerous Zenescope and Silver Dragon projects under my belt.
AiPT: Nice, so that means one of your first editorial jobs was on one of Pat’s first projects. Were there any resources or people you turned to in order to round out your skills or was it all on the job training?
Matt: Ralph, our Editor-in-Chief, was my primary knowledge center. He mentored me on how to negotiate with creative teams and determine deadlines. It was mostly a “learn as you go” style experience, but Ralph kept a watchful eye over me to make sure I didn’t mess anything up beyond repair. Making small mistakes is fine. It is part of any job. But you have to make sure you learn from your mistakes so you do not make them again.
AIPT: Pat, it was recently announced you will be writing exclusively for Zenescope. Congratulations! What does being exclusive entail or mean as far as your writing duties?
Pat Shand: Thanks! When we did the Robyn Hood interview, you were oddly prescient when you asked me if I was exclusive, because this is a new development. I love the work I’ve done with other companies like IDW and Big Dog Ink, but Ralph Tedesco at Zenescope called me up a few weeks ago like, “Pat, we’re going to ask you to go exclusive with us.” I was flattered in the first place, of course, but I obviously asked what that means. While clearly it means that I’m going to be scripting only Zenescope titles, the reason I gave a resounding “yes” was when Ralph said I would be writing consistently.
Matt: I was very excited when I heard the news. Being exclusively signed to a company is not something that is thrown around. It takes a lot of practice and patience. He has definitely gotten a positive reaction from the fanbase and it shows. Pat has accomplished a lot so far here and there are a lot more plans for him in the immediate future.
Pat: Thanks for the kind words! Starting in September, you will see multiple new books from me, and that’s going to continue on through my tenure at Zenescope. They’re big on promoting me as their writer, so I’m going to continue showing them and the fans what I’ve got to offer the Grimm Universe.
Also…there may be something creator-owned sooner or later. I’m thinking sooner.
AiPT: Now that you’re exclusive, could you delve into how far in advance you are working on the new material? I imagine you have a few scripts and maybe even a few full issues complete months in advance. For that matter, how far out is the Zenescope story plotted?
Pat: Most of what you’ll see from me this year is done. Robyn Hood is written through #4, and Godstorm through #2. Waiting for notes on those and then I’ll give into the finale of Robyn and #3 of Godstorm. There will probably be a few extra books I do this year, but yeah—most is written and every mini I’m on is plotted before I go to script on the first issue. It’s hard to say how much of the overarching Zenescope universe is plotted, though, because there is always something new.
Godstorm #1 cover art
AiPT: The solicit for Godstorm reads:
A brand new series straight from the Grimm Fairy Tales Universe.
The Highborn Gods of old have been biding their time, waiting for the right point in human evolution to make their return. Some have waited with nothing but good intentions and the desire to help the people of earth.
But not all the deities from the past have such altruistic plans. One fallen god has set her sights on a much loftier and more sinister goal…the enslavement of all mankind.
Stop me if I’m wrong Pat, but how do the Greek Gods fit with the “Grimm Fairy Tales”? They are technically mythology right?
Pat: I think the best way to answer this is to say my first Grimm Fairy Tales comic was based on A Christmas Carol and my first mini series is Robyn Hood. While the Grimm universe started with comics that tie into the eponymous Grimm Fairy Tales, the universe has expanded in a big, big way. And, I mean, how cool is it to have a universe where Cinderella exists alongside Hook, Alice, Robyn Hood, and Zeus?
AiPT: What would you guys say makes Zenescope unique in comparison to other comic book publishers?
Matt: The biggest thing that separates us from other publishers is the cover artwork. It has always been my belief that cover artwork is what makes customers pick up our book from the shelves. Once the book is in their hand, the great story is what keeps someone coming back. I feel our cover art is well above par when it comes to standards. We have had some rather large names when it comes to covers such as Greg Horn, Neal Adams, Arthur Suydam, and J. Scott Campbell to name a few. I would also say that we have established a cult following. I have run into many people at conventions and local venues stating that Zenescope products are the only comics that really appeal to them due to the fact that they aren’t your “typical superhero”. Most of our characters are regular people that are put into extraordinary circumstances either by accident, or by someone else with an agenda.
Pat: I’m a comics fan in general, so this is not a slight against any other companies because just about every single active publisher has books that I’m obsessed with, but Zenescope stands out in a lot of ways. First of all, the Universe. We have this Marvel/DC-esque connected Universe that takes public domain characters, mixes them with new characters, and finds a way to somehow blend centuries of mythology into a very modern dark fantasy. Almost all of our titles can stand alone, but when read together, they have a cohesiveness that other shared universe comics don’t always have.
It’s both because of the focused stories, but it’s also because we’re all very in touch with each other. Raven, Joe, Ralph, and I are writing most of the books, but even the ones I have nothing to do with, like what Troy Brownfield is doing in Myths and Legends, I’m still very much in touch with him about what we’re doing with each other’s characters. As a company and a story telling unit, we’re all united in story and character, so it gives us an organic flow from title to title.
Matt thinks Zenescope’s covers separate them from the pack. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!
AiPT: Matt, what goes into choosing which writer works with a specific artist or vice versa?
Matt: 99% of the time, the script is completed before the art team is assembled. At Zenescope, we have a wide variety of artists that use varying styles. We assign art teams based off the type of issue we will be creating. For instance, if a book is part of the thriller or horror genre, we will try to find an artist that is very dark and uses some harder edges and heavy shadows. An artistic style is a primary factor when it comes to assigning them to a project.
AiPT: What is the relationship like between editor and writer and a big time comic book publisher? Could you tell us about your relationship in general?
Matt: The primary relationship of the editor is to act as a center of communications between writer, artists, and final publication. Most of the time, I try to allow the writer and artists have as much creative control as possible. To squash the creative flow will usually result in a less than entertaining product. I always want to include the writer’s opinion as pages come in from the artists. Most writers have a specific idea of how something should look or an angle for a panel. Godstorm is a perfect example as Pat and I were discussing with the artist regarding the point of a view for one of the pages.
Pat: It’s different with every editor. Matt is great because he’ll just email me out of nowhere. When I get an email from Matt, I’ll often have a bunch of great art to look at from artists who are working on my books. Matt’s a great guy and has been handling more and more of the Zenescope titles, and he makes a writer’s life easy.
I’m probably most in contact with Raven, because he’ll directly call me and be like, “just read your script, I love so-and-so, but how about we do THIS with so-and-so,” and we’ll just talk out the details. The best is when he’ll call and be like, “Pat… guess what you’re writing!” That happened with Robyn Hood. With Godstorm, I was actually having a s----y time with something personal, so Raven just goes, “Don’t be down! You’re Pat Shand, you’re writing Robyn Hood. Oh, yeah, and Godstorm too, cool?”
With Ralph, he’s the guy that brought me into all this. I emailed him some scripts I’d written after I worked on Angel at IDW, and he instantly offered me 1000 Ways to Die. So I’ll sometimes call Ralph just to be like, “By the way, thanks for doing that. Now I have all these books,” and he’ll be like, “No problem—now just don’t mess it up!” It’s a really casual rapport I have with these guys because I think we all are also writers, and we approach character from similar ways.
With Joe, most of the outlines come from him. He’ll send me and Raven some story beats, which we’ll work into an outline. He’s, I think, the chief architect of the Grimm Universe, so I’m really happy he’s brought me into this world. I love creator owned work, and you will see that coming from me soon, but collaboration, especially plotting with someone as full of ideas as Joe, is where some of my best writing comes from.
AiPT: Ah, so there’s an architect. Please tell me he doesn’t wear a white suit like in The Matrix. That brings up an interesting question. How involved are you when it comes to world building? What has gone into setting up the event? Similar to say, Avengers vs. X-Men, do you have multiple writers pitching in and developing the story?
Pat: For Giant Size, Raven called me with the very basic idea. We hashed out some plot beats, such as the shocking end (I was stunned, personally, that we were doing it… and that I was allowed such a giant moment) and the Blake and Bolder duo as the leads. I’d never plotted a story before for Zenescope, as I hadn’t even gotten the Robyn Hood or Godstorm gigs before writing this, so I thought I’d be waiting for Raven’s official outline. But then, the story just came to me and I wrote this two page plot document, which I sent to Raven hoping for the best. We worked on it, added a major new character, and went to script. Raven has been involved in all of my recent Zenescope work, and his plotting and tips have invariably made the stories better.
AiPT: How often do you talk about story, deadlines and the like?
Matt: Literally, on a day to day basis. The entire editorial department at Zenescope will have weekly meetings just to make sure everyone is still on the same page. But we will continue to talk and discuss projects as the days go by. There is always the possibility that an artist will have to drop from a project or need help to complete their portion of the book within a given deadline. So we constantly discuss backups and alternatives. Should someone drop the ball, we need to be ready to pass it off to the next person.
Pat: I’m pretty ridiculous. I need deadlines, because I create my best work from them. Zenescope has kind of stopped giving them to me, though, because writing is my fun after the boring day job stuff… so I tend to beat the deadlines by a longshot. Most of my time spent writing comes from revision, because I’ll just bang a script out as soon as the idea is in my head. The characters and the dialogue come to me almost fully formed, and I just have to sort of reach in my brain and spew it onto a word doc. I sculpt and refine in editing, of course, but if I spend a week writing a 22 page script, I know it won’t be focused.
AiPT: Deadlines definitely help partition out the remaining time and how to schedule yourself. How concerned are you with timing when it comes to a single issues plot? Do you ever reach the end of a first draft and at that point realize something needs to happen earlier or later?
Pat: All the time. In all forms of storytelling, but especially comics, pacing is key. I break most of that stuff when I’m hashing out the plot beats, but we rearrange that stuff a lot when we get to the scripting phase. In Robyn Hood #4, actually, I just did a whole new draft to fix pacing issues. That’s one of the reasons it’s great my editors are all writers and creative like Matt – they can see story from both a reader and a writer’s perspective.
Robyn #1 Cover art.
AiPT: About how many projects are you juggling on a day to day basis? And for that matter how many folks are you managing between projects?
Matt: At any given point, I would say the editorial department has about 25 to 30 projects in some form of production. This could range anywhere from scripts being drafted to artwork being drawn all the way up to final proofing. I would estimate that I personally have my hands in about 90% of current projects. For any single project, on average there is about 4-5 creative individuals behind each book. This is usually split between the writer, artist, colorist, and letterer.
Pat: Probably around ten-fifteen, because I’ve got a bunch of creator owned stuff in various stages of development, and I’m a playwright and screenwriter. So if you live in New York, come to Manhattan and check out some of my Off Off Broadway stuff! I’ve written some short stories, too, because prose was my first love, but it’s been a while since I’ve dabbled in that. I’ve been pitching a novel around, but no news on that yet.
AiPT: Matt, is there anything that you wanted to mention about Zenescope or mention specifically to it’s target audience or those who may be interested in writing or illustrating for it?
Matt: For any aspiring creative types out there, criticism is the most important thing in the world. Do not infer that criticism on your work is an attack on your creative ability, but rather guidance. If you pitch your idea to multiple publishers, and they all come back and say the same thing needs to be changed, then maybe something needs to be altered. You should feel proud of the work you create, but humble enough to accept the fact that there might be need for change. Comics in general is a fragile market and dominated by the Premiere Publishers. The current independent publishers only account for a sliver of the total market share. After the comic book industry took a tumble in the early and mid 90’s, independent publishers have been very wary about what is produced. They are looking for books that are original, unique, and have the ability to draw a crowd.
AiPT: You’re in a unique position as an editor. Have you seen any big changes in the comic world from your vantage point?
Matt: The biggest change has to be in the way we interact with modern technology. 10 years ago, if you wanted to get the latest comic books, you would usually have to go to a comic book store to pick up the new books for the given week. Now with innovations in modern technology, you only need to go as far as your iOS or Android device. You can download most comics straight to any internet ready device, usually on the same day as they are released in stores. While this is an excellent alternative to going to a store, I do not think this will completely destroy the demand for physical print. Many collectors (myself included) still view the physical comic books as superior to digital for the fact that physical print comics will retain and increase their value over time. When you download a digital copy, you are not physically getting a copy of the book, you are only getting a copy of a file from a source. I think it is great for people who want to read the stories. But the die hard collectors will stick with the physical print version. There is something about the tactile touch that makes it more entertaining to me. This is probably similar to the way some people still prefer listening to vinyl records as opposed to digital MP3s.
AIPT: Grimm Fairy Tale Giant Size 2012 sounds like an event book. The solicit reads:
You cannot miss Grimm Fairy Tale book for the year is here! In the land of Myst Blake The White Knight and Boulder the Dwarf have begun their journey to reform the council of the realms on an epic adventure that will take them to the farthest reaches of Wonderland, Myst, Neverland and Oz itself but as they search for those who will replace the previous members the Dark One’s most loyal general Orcus is also searching for an item of incredible power to resurrect his long murdered Queen and when these two forces collide the face of the the Grimm universe will change forever. The Event book of the year that sets the stage for the future of the Grimm Universe and the realms of power with an ending you have to see to believe! Featuring the return of a character that will have every Zenescope fan talking!
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears recent events in the Zenescope universe are coming together rather than each book being completely separate. Or is this an event outside of other books like Alice in Wonderland?
Pat: It’s very much a summer blockbuster movie in a fifty page comic, because we’ve got—for the first time ever—a book that travels into all of the realms in the Grimm Universe. That’s Myst, Wonderland, Neverland, and… Oz. Other than the little peek at the end of the Dream Eater saga, we haven’t seen anything about Oz. We don’t know what that book, when it comes out, will look like. Well, Giant Size GFT offers the first extended glimpse.
Also, it features a surprise ending, a guest character that fans are going to flip for, and a brand new female hero I’m introducing into the Grimm Universe. Oh, also, more Blake and Bolder. Joe Brusha was using them in the main Grimm Fairy Tales title a while back, and Raven and I just love those characters. I’m going to continue to push for them to become pivotal characters in the overarching mythology.
I kind of got away from the question though, sorry. It can be read on its own, but yes, it very much develops from what has been happening in the various titles, especially Grimm Fairy Tales. The Council of the Realms got abolished in #50, and fallen realm knight Blake and his dwarf buddy Bolder think it’s about time someone does something about it.
AiPT: Do you find you need to be an expert in the histories of each property? Since Zenescope is technically another…shall we say dimension when it comes to these characters there’s an obvious ability to change them. Considering there are folks out there who may live and die by Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan, how much do you hold to the original material? Is there a tightrope being walked to keep fans of the source material happy?
Pat: I like character driven stories, so when I start writing ask myself who the character is. How would they respond to what is going on in this story? Based on that, I figure out how much of the old stays and how much of the story is going to be all new. I want to please fans of the original, but I’m more concerned with telling good stories in general than being slavish to the source material.
AiPT: Pat, in the Grimm Fairy Tales 2012 Annual that you wrote, Venus was working to build an army. How does that tie into Godstorm?
Pat: It’s integral. As I was writing Godstorm, I started to see more and more into Venus’s head. Besides Robyn, she’s the character I’ve spent the most time writing in the Grimm universe so far, so I’m very concerned on giving her arc a truly explosive climax. Godstorm is very much the result of her actions in the annual, but it’s not the final step. It’s the next step. There are forces at work beyond Venus, and we’re about to see just how dark this universe can get.
Godstorm #1 cover art
AiPT: Zenescope sort of reminds me of what Bill Willingham has done with Fables. No doubt there’s a limitless amount of story to tell with these characters, especially with their interaction. We’ll be looking forward to these books in the coming months. Thanks so much for your time guys!
You can follow Matt on Twitter @zenescopematt.
And to follow Pat’s career check out his blog here.
You can still preorder Godstorm #1 and Godstorm #0. You can purchase these issues at Zenescope.com. You can also check out facebook.com/zenescope and on Twitter @zenescope for the latest Zenescope news and updates.