Real Interviews: Phil Kahn

Nerdcenaries: Greetings Phil Kahn of the webcomic Guilded Age!
Phil Kahn: Salutations, Luke!
N: So for those readers who have not heard of you, who are you Phil?
PK: I’m… basically a professional weirdo.
N: Well, what was your first professionally weird project?
PK: Probably the wiki for webcomics-themed cocktails. With accompanying video podcast.
N: Oooh, that sounds good as an amateur drinker. What was your favorite?
PK: Definitely the Banurtle, inspired by Better You Than Me, the previous comic of Lee Cherolis (now of Little Guardians). It was what happens when you cross a banana with a turtle.

1 Part Midori
1 Part Banana Schnapps
Sprite to taste over ice

It was definitely the best tasting recipe we ever featured.
N: Haha. So now you have a webcomic called Guilded Age. What drink would sum up Guilded Age?
PK: Oh jeez. If I had to decide right now… a shot of Goldschlager dropped into a tankard of ale.
N: Haha. Well why not sum up Guilded Age for the uninitiated then?
PK: It’s the saga of the working class adventurer. Arkerra is a fantasy universe that has just seen the dawn of the industrial age, and now wealth accumulation and emerging technology have cast a vast divide amongst the varying races of the land. And as dominance is asserted, resistance rises and causes a continent to go to war with itself. And as our band of adventurers will find, it’s not so simple as killing kobolds for loot anymore.
N: Now I’ve read and enjoyed the comic so far and I feel obligated to ask, are you a tabletop gamer?
PK: I’d love to say “Yes,” but I never get to play anymore because I went and did a comic about fantasy so now I don’t get to fantasy game anymore! But I did for a long time, and spent a good few years recreationally pretending to be someone else in World of Warcraft.
N: When you did play were you a DM more often?
PK: Usually, yeah, because my friends never want to and I’m a control freak anyway, haha. But I had a lot of fun running adventures, because I got to tell a story collaboratively with a bunch of my pals, chuck dice and drink liberally. And do voices for all the NPCs.
N: I was the DM type as well. I loved that part more. So what other webcomics are you enjoying right now?
PK: Webcomics are pretty great right now. A lot of good work is rising to the top. Manly Guys Doing Manly Things is a great one for the gaming crowd. Edmund Finney’s Quest to Find the Meaning of Life is the closest thing in my life to having Monty Python again. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal always delivers, every day of the week. ErfWorld is our comrade-at-fantasy-webcomics-arms and is badass besides. And Frankenstein Superstar is a really cool one I just found that’s one big love letter to rock & roll and classic pinup girls.
N: Now you are also collaborating with T Campbell on Guilded Age. How does that work?
PK: Miraculously. Seriously, though, T and I work really well together because we’re basically polar opposites in human beings. But we’re able to take this bizarre storytelling Yin and Yang we’ve got and churn out a story that meets both of our standards and tastes. Our #1 rule is that we will never publish anything that one of the both of us is unhappy with. So when we hammer our combined ideas of what “quality” is together, we come out with one strangely unified voice. And then John Waltrip uses his mutant power to manifest text into awesome. But if you want to get technical about it, we each write half the script and then edit the crap out of each other to the degree of endangering our friendship, haha.
N: Haha. So it is sort of like Venture Bros?
PK: In a way, yeah. I’m a big fan of the show, and it finds its influence into my work in more ways than one.
N: Well like there apparently both of the writers pound out half of the season and then they come together and combine it.
PK: Right. What we do differently is that we do it chapter by chapter, together, following a larger plot outline we’ve agreed on. We’ll break a chapter into six four-page scenes and then each draft half of them. Then we go through a lengthy revisions process. Where feelings get hurt.
N: How much of it consists of name calling?
PK: More than I’d care to admit, haha.
N: Haha. So who is your favorite superhero?
PK: Right now it’s definitely Larfleeze. That guy rocks my world.
N: Hahah.
PK: I hope it won’t be like a year before we see him in the new DCU.
N: Actually they announced it is going to be pretty soon.
PK: Fan. Tastic. I demand that DC gives me more Larfleeze immediately.
N: Haha. And they are going to announce his oath. Though I have an issue with the Green Lanterns in the DCU. Mainly that they weren’t rebooted at all. And they were trying to make it open for new readers.
PK: Really the whole thing is a shitshow. I read JLA#1 and gave up right away. I came at it like a new reader, because I am a new reader to DC. I was into a few pieces before then but I was really ready to see what they had to offer in their first week, their single salvo. And just… wasn’t hooked. And I’ve been hearing some of it’s pretty good and that’s good news. I’d hate for the whole thing to be a bust. But this feels like the 90’s again. And not just because of Jim Lee. It’s just… the same damn thing as Heroes Reborn only DC went whole hog. And everyone looks “cutting edge.” I have a lot more to say about this than I thought, especially since I’ve made mine Marvel since birth, hahaha.
N: Yeah. I started with Marvel comics when I started at the comic shop I worked at. Or well I started with Dark Horse and Vertigo before that.
PK: R.I.P. Vertigo.
N: The hilarious thing is that most of the comics that people love the most art miniseries or one-shots outside of continuity. Why not reboot the entire series with established character ideas and then more limited series?
PK: I don’t know, man, I’m not a doctor. They didn’t need to reboot at all. If they wanted to reach new readers, they just had to change the way they do everything. But rebooting is the low-risk option.
N: Miniseries would be a safer bet. You can see how people react to entire series with less investments, allow popular characters more reasonable exposure and you don’t need to worry about continuity.
PK: That’s one way to do it, sure. They just haven’t changed their method in going on 20 years and it doesn’t take a doctor to see why that’s a problem.
N: Verily. Is there anything else you want to pimp before we go?
PK: We have a book! You can order it at our store!
N: Awesome! Well thank you for you time Phil Kahn.
PK: Thank you for the opportunity to get on Dan DiDio’s bad side.
N: It’s my pleasure.

Real Interviews: Chris Sims

Luke Herr: How are you doing Chris Sims of The ISB, the twice Eisner-nominated comic news website Comics Alliance, host of the Comics Alliance flagship podcast War Rocket Ajax and creator of several webcomics including Awesome Hospital and the upcoming Dracula the Unconquered?

Chris Sims: I’m doing well! Two cups of coffee’ll do that.

LH: So your upcoming work that you are releasing on Halloween is called Dracula the Unconquered. What can you tell me about that?

CS: It’s an ongoing digital comic book series about that takes place roughly ten years after the events of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1901. I’ve described the high concept before as Indiana Jones starring Dracula, a big adventure story that has this grand villain and his human sidekick, Thalia, traveling around the world and battling against ghosts, monsters, and other vampires.

LH: And is your goal going to be a sort of redeeming of the Lord of the Night or will it be more of a character piece on this Vampire Lord?

CS: There’s definitely an aspect to it that’s about redemption. One of the things that I wanted to do was give people a version of Dracula that they hadn’t seen before — or at least, that you don’t see often — and with so many different takes on him in pop culture, the idea of Drac as an adventure hero is what I came up with. It’s actually directly inspired by the Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge stories, and while it’s definitely a different sort of structure, that’s the kind of feeling I want to get, the big anything-can-happen adventure. But if you’re going to have Dracula as a hero, you definitely have to address the fact that he’s a pretty bad guy. I mean, he literally eats people. So part of it is about showing a different side of him, and part of it is about explaining how this monstrous figure that everyone knows as a villain is in a ruined castle at the opening of the novel, rather than as the grand end-boss we always think of him.

LH: So this is sort of Dracula Getting His Groove Back then? Rebuilding his fortune like Uncle Scrooge in a way?

CS: Ha! Kind of. There’s definitely a structure to it where he’s rebuilding himself, and going around the world to gather various artifacts and confront former allies and enemies.

LH: So this is Dracula/Sandman/Scrooge. It sounds pretty awesome.

CS: Well, I certainly like it!

LH: Now would you consider yourself a vampire expert?

CS: Not really? I mean, I went through that phase that I think a lot of people go through when they’re kids where they have a year where they just love horror and monsters, and I remember checking out these books from my elementary school library that were like picture book explanations of vampires and werewolves using stills from the Universal Movies. I guess I know as much as anyone else does. Mainly, I’m just a fan of Dracula — specifically Dracula in pop culture. The Hammer movies, the Castlevania games, Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula is a huge influence. I hadn’t actually read the original novel until I decided I wanted to do a Dracula comic, and it really shaped the way I think of him, since that original portrayal is so different from the pop culture notion that we all sort of get from how he is in other media.

LH: So I shouldn’t ask you mathematical questions about the limits of blood that Dracula would be able to imbibe because I mathed up that stuff.

CS: Ha! Don’t try to apply math to magic, Luke. If Dracula wants to drink eight pints of blood in one sitting, he will!

LH: Actually a healthy living hu-man can drink 31 pints every day and process it which is about 2-3 humans. I will bring the math down on Dracula. Dracu-Math!

CS: Sounds like I’ve got a new competitor.

LH: So one thing I’ve wondered is where do vampires come from? Not like a cultural origin about them being inspired by Vlad the Impaler but who was like “Gonna make some dead guys drink blood?

CS: That’s a good question, but not one that I’ve really thought about answering in the series. I know where Dracula comes from — my version actually isn’t Vlad the Impaler, that’s an aspect of the character I’ve never liked, so I just did away with it — but as for where they started in general? I’m not sure. I think the example the roleplaying game Vampire: The Masquerade gave was that they were all descended from Cain, who had been cursed by God to eat naught but ashes and drink naught but blood, or something along those lines. But I got that information secondhand from my time working in a comic and game shop, so I might be misattributing it. It’s a neat idea, though! I think I’m just going to go with “Magic.” It’s a nice catch-all answer.

LH: What about Devil Magic? All the fun of Magic with the bonus of the Devil?

CS: Definitely a possibility.

LH: Now are we ever going to get a CS Universe Crossover comic?

CS: Ha, Chad and I talked about doing a big Action Age crossover with Monster Plus, Solomon Stone, Awesome Hospital and so on, but we never got around to it. I think the closest we came was Matt Digges putting Atnas the Anti-Santa from my Solomon Stone Christmas Special into his Awesome Hospital Christmas special, thus establishing that those two comics exist in the same universe. Maybe I should have Atnas show up to ruin Dracula’s holidays.

LH: Now you also write for Comics Alliance every week day as well as doing the podcast War Rocket Ajax which is now in it’s third year. Anything big coming up for those?

CS: You mean bigger than being the #1 Comic Book Website in America? (Shameless, I know, but I had to say it.)

LH: Chris. You are wrong. CA is the #1 Comic Book Website in the World.

CS: It’s certainly #1… in our hearts.

LH: Is there anything else that you want to plug or recommend to our readers?

CS: Awesome Hospital is usually updated every Tuesday and Thursday, although this week we ran into some unfortunate events that have delayed us for a little bit. Beyond that, I’d just like to point out that Drac drops on Halloween, and it’s $1 for 24 pages of full-color story.

LH: Thanks for being our first interviewee Chris.

CS: Thank you!