When it comes to dark humor and grand adventure, few artists can compare to Jim Calafiore, whose career has included work on Deadpool, Aquaman, Exiles, Gotham Underground, and the highly respected, much missed Secret Six. Calafiore generously took time out of his busy schedule to speak to me about his latest project with Gail Simone, the original graphic novel Leaving Megalopolis, a project they funded through the website Kickstarter. We also chatted about creating new characters for both the Big Two and his own projects, as well as a second Kickstarter still in progress, a compilation of single panel comics called Crooks and Nannies.
Matt Santori: Congratulations on the amazing success of your Kickstarter, Jim! With an overwhelming response of over 4000 backers and almost $120,000, Leaving Megalopolis could be one of the most successful campaigns to date. What made you want to use Kickstarter as a vehicle for funding this new project?
Jim Calafiore: Thank you! Well, it actually started out strangely, insofar that I hadn’t really heard of Kickstarter until maybe six months before we’d put this up. Credit goes to writer Brandon Montclaire (Halloween Eve) and inker Rodney Ramos (52, Birds of Prey). I was just talking to the two of them at a show, and it was Brandon who said, “You should try something with Kickstarter!” and Rodney said, “Yeah, you and Gail could do well on there!” In terms of my enthusiasm for it, Kickstarter is an amazing place. It needs to get bigger. It needs more people. I’m still surprised how many people don’t know about it. I’ve spent more time explaining Kickstarter than the project to people at shows. It can be such a big thing for creators.
JC: We don’t have to worry about a publisher that says, “Eh, I don’t think so.” or “Can you change this?” or “Can you do that in two issues?” We get to put up the project exactly the way we want it, we get it directly to people, and the advantage for them is they don’t have to worry about a shop saying, “I don’t think I’m going to carry that.” They get to decide.
MSG: And I imagine Kickstarter gave you some other unique opportunities as well, like the ability to expand the offering for Leaving Megalopolis when it became clear you were exceeding your initial goal.
JC: Yeah, publishers don’t know how many orders they’re getting. We, in essence, did. A lot of the comic book projects on Kickstarter often are compilations of other stuff. There’s not exclusively new stuff. But that’s the advantage to it — you can change your project as you’re going. It gave us the opportunity for 32 more pages to expand the story.
MS: You and Gail clearly have amazing synergy together as creators, with your collaboration on Secret Six for DC Comics remaining one of the most missed aspects of that publishing line. What do you think is the secret to your success as a team?
JS: I have no idea. [laughs] Any writer I work with, that I end up with a good relationship with, trusts me. But then it’s also that we have good communication. I’ve always tried to converse with the writer a lot, in terms of “Do you mind if I drop this panel, or can we change this angle? I think I have an idea for pacing this.” And Gail is really good about that. She does fun stuff. I’m definitely not a Superman feel-good kind of guy. I’m better off with something with some biting humor and some darkness.
MSG: Secret Six was often a dark vision, of course, but always balanced its grim façade with a palpable sense of humor that shone through your illustration. Your time illustrating Aquaman during Peter David’s run also seemed to play with these opposing forces. What is it that draws you to these types of titles?
JC: I can’t say I’m drawn to it because I just got those assignments. I have a dark sense of humor and have been lucky with some pairings. But I wasn’t actually given Secret Six. I was just doing a fill-in issue (#14), written by John Ostrander, and DC just liked what I did. I’ll go for the jugular, both with humor and with visuals, when I can. Drawing Deadshot, I made that the bloodiest I could make it. Every time I sent in pages, I asked the editor if anyone was complaining, and he said, “Nope!” so I just kept going.
MSG: Do you see this kind of dark humor carrying over with the survivors (or heroes) in Leaving Megalopolis?
Definitely. From both Gail and I. The premise is that Megalopolis was the safest city in the world in our own little super-hero universe. Their epitome of super-heroes was Overlord. It was the safest city in the world, until an event causes all the super-heroes to go bat shit crazy. The book is a survivor horror story, and it centers on a group of regular people just trying to get the hell out of town before they get killed.
We’ve recently released a preview for backers — basically the first ten pages of the book. It’s a nice sequence Gail came up with. It’s a lot of set-up, but every panel is an image of destruction that has its own little story to it.
MSG: Are you doing all of the art from pencils to colors, as well as letters, or do you have additional creators on board for those elements?
JC: The colorist was one of the stretch goals, in fact! He was the same colorist we had for most of the run of Secret Six — Jason Wright — and he’s doing a great job. We were used to him and knew what he could bring to it. And the letterer is Dave Sharpe, who had lettered me on Deadpool.
JC: As soon as we can! We had an original ship date of February, but the big thing is — we added 32 pages of story. Everyone has been really cool about it. They’re worried about the quality about it rather than the speed. I’ve just been working away on it. I’m fairly confident we’ll be at the printer this spring.
We’d definitely expand upon it if we had the chance. That’s not to say things don’t end in the first volume, but we’ve definitely talked about continuing. There’s so much! I even have a 14-page story in the first volume that I wrote and drew – just a little short that has nothing to do with the main story, a mood piece. There are a lot of corners of the city we can get into.
MSG: Will there be an opportunity for non-supporters to purchase Leaving Megalopolis after the fact?
JC: We’re negotiating right now with a publisher for the reprint of the softcover, which would come out two or three months after the hardcover. We want the delay because there are going to be two 8-10 page short stories that were also part of the stretch goals that backers get digitally. And even though we’re talking to a publisher, the biggest thing we want to do with the hardcover is keep it exclusive to the backers, save for a few I’d have to sell at shows. But we are not going to make a hardcover available to the stores.
MSG: You’ve spent an extensive amount of time creating and developing characters for the DC and Marvel Universes, including most notably Nocturne (the alternate future daughter of Nightcrawler and the Scarlet Witch) from Exiles.
JC: Yes! Nocturne was for Marvel’s X-Men: Millennial Visions, a book where they had creators each do a pin-up of where the X-Men would be 25 years from then. That was the beginning of Exiles. There was even a contest for people to vote for their favorites, and I believe I came in third. Originally, there was talk about doing an anthology series based on the different pin-ups and over the course of discussion, that morphed into Exiles. Without me knowing it, the only character Judd and the editor wanted to take out of Millennial Visions was Nocturne.
MSG: How is that process different from designing characters for your creator-owned work?
JC: It’s sort of the same. I was never one of those people who thought, “Ooo, I’m not going to own this.” If it was really a character that I thought was my end-all-be-all, I would never do it for Marvel or DC. But designing characters is different on your own. There’s no restrictions and especially with something like either Leaving Megalopolis or Apex. You get to go crazy, designing characters on the wing. That was part of the fun part about X-Men: Millennial Visions — there weren’t any restrictions. We could just let our brains go.
A lot of times, when you are doing a book, you’re told “This is a new character. He’s so-and-so, he has to be so-and-so, and he does such-and-such.” As opposed to when we’re just making things up on our end, we can even just come up with a really cool name and draw something to the name.
JC: Apex is, in my own little super-hero universe, the Captain America/Superman of that universe. He is the epitome, the one everyone looks up to, and also the first hero. And he’s been around a long time, and becoming tired and disillusioned. He’s been through the times when nobody was trying to kill anybody, when it was almost a game to stop the bank robbers. He’s been around since the early 1930’s, and he’s just watched things progressed to where, even now, it’s hard to tell the villains from the heroes. He’s having a crisis of mission. And it couldn’t happen at a worse time, because there’s a threat that’s revealing itself to every hero.
It also explores the idea of being the epitome – the idol. When you’re put on a pedestal, it’s very lonely up there. There’s only one. And he’s just reached this point where he’s not sure anymore.
MSG: And, as if all this wasn’t enough, you also just launched a second Kickstarter on your own for a project called, Crooks and Nannies. What can you tell us about that one?
JC: Crooks and Nannies is a one-panel strip that runs every Friday on my website since 2011. I always had all these little gags that wouldn’t go anywhere. Or little cartoon ideas, even back into college. My first one, a Christmas strip, had a Hasidic Jew’s car crashing into Santa’s sleigh, with them arguing in the middle of the road. Just ideas like that, and stuff to bitch about, because I love to bitch — observations on relationship and people and language. It’s far-ranging.
And the name Crooks and Nannies is just a Spoonerism that stuck in my head, and I always thought something could be done with that. I even thought about doing a comic book about crooks and nannies, which would have been a tough one, particularly because it would probably be like Brian Bolland’s The Actress and the Bishop. [laughs]
I decided to put up a compilation of the first two years on Kickstarter to see if we could get it published. And again, I don’t have to worry about somebody saying, “Yeah, but take out that one about Jesus.” So, we’ll be putting together a 112-page digest size, landscape book. The Kickstarter runs until April 14, and we’re almost halfway to the goal. I’m really happy with it so far.
MSG: So, any last words or special teases you can share with the Comicosity audience about your upcoming work?
JC: No. [laughs]
Gail’s been very tough about information and previews. I keep wanting to post some Leaving Megalopolis pages, and she’s like, “No, no. That shows too much.” So I don’t want to say anything that will get me into trouble.
I guess what I can say is that when we did Secret Six, I said we were almost a Vertigo book. This is super-heroes and Vertigo. We’re not pulling any punches with this story.
MSG: Thanks so much, Jim!
Check out Jim Calafiore’s new Kickstarter for Crooks and Nannies, running until April 14, 2013, and watch for news on future printings of Leaving Megalopolis here at Comicosity. You can see more of Jim’s work, including the development of Apex, on his website at jimcalafiore.com.